Alcohol

Pot and Cigarettes Are Now Equally Popular (Among Teenagers)

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The latest data from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System indicate that the percentage of teenagers who smoke marijuana is essentially the same as the percentage who smoke cigarettes. In the 2007 survey, 19.7 percent percent of high school students reported smoking marijuana at least once in the previous month, while 20 percent said they'd smoked at least one cigarette. The Marijuana Policy Project notes that tobacco smoking is declining faster among teenagers than marijuana smoking:

The cigarette use figure represents a sharp drop from the 2005 survey, when it was 23 percent. Marijuana use, at 20.2 percent in 2005, showed a much smaller decline….

Another report released this week, the Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Synar Report on tobacco sales to youth, showed the 10th straight annual decline in the rate of illegal tobacco sales to minors. In 1997, 40.1 percent of retailers violated laws against tobacco sales to minors. In 2007 the rate had dropped to just 10.5 percent, the lowest ever.

"Efforts to curb cigarette sales to teens have been wildly successful, and it's past time we applied those lessons to marijuana," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "Tobacco retailers can be fined or put out of business if they sell to kids, but prohibition guarantees that we have zero control over marijuana dealers. Foolish policies have guaranteed that the marijuana industry is completely unregulated."

This is true enough, and I've often made a similar argument. But honest opponents of prohibition have to admit that leakage from the adult market for any legal intoxicant is inevitable. Note that the rate for past-month alcohol consumption in the same survey was 45 percent, making it more than twice as common among teenagers as pot smoking. (That's up from 43 percent in 2005 but the same as in 2003.) To project the impact that repealing prohibition would have on underage pot smoking, you need to weigh the effect of regulation against the effect of easier, safer, and cheaper availability to adults.

Then there's the question of how much weight should be attached to the risk of increased consumption by minors. To me, underage cigarette smoking is more troubling (legal issues aside) than underage drinking or pot smoking, because it is much more likely to result in a long-term habit that has serious health consequences. Others, focusing on the immediate psychoactive effects and the associated risk of reckless behavior or academic disruption, may worry more about alcohol and pot.

I am not conceding, by the way, that a utilitarian analysis like this one is the right way to find the ideal drug policy. If adults have a fundamental right to control their bodies and the chemicals that go into them, the possibility that some may deliberately or accidentally share those chemicals with minors does not justify violating that right. But most Americans do not accept that premise, so predictions about how repealing prohibition would affect The Children are unavoidable.

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  1. Pot is safer – less tar and nicotine (legal issues excepted).

    I can’t wait for the “kids” to take over government from the Baby Boomers.

    They cannot do worse….

  2. “To me, underage cigarette smoking is more troubling (legal issues aside) than underage drinking or pot smoking, because it is much more likely to result in a long-term habit that has serious health consequences.”

    I disagree completely. When you’re 16, long-term health risks aren’t nearly as serious as the risk of failing out of school, becoming a drunk/pothead, getting a DUI, etc.

    Lots of people smoke when they’re teenagers and quit later. Half of my friends smoked when we were 20, and almost nobody still smoked at 30. Your lungs will recover.

  3. Shrike,
    well, no, in fact most studies show that pot has significantly more tar.
    less nicotine, yes, duh.
    of course, it shouldn’t matter. plus there are safer ways to get thc, such as vaporizing, metabolizing.. etc.

  4. I can’t wait for the PSAs warning us how Pot is a gateway drug leading to cigarrettes.

  5. If you legalize marijuana for adults, more teenagers will smoke dope. Kids ain’t so dumb they can’t do a oost/benefit analysis. Underage drinking is really not a big deal unless you’re driving. It won’t affect your ability to get a student loan, to join the military, etc. OTOH, possession of reefer is a violation with the repercussions I mentioned and others. If the weed from the devil’s garden is legalized for adults we can expect that penalties for underage use will mimic alcohol laws. With less danger (cost) for cannabis use, you can safely predict more pot smoking.

    None of this has to do with ease of acquiring the ganja. I don’t think availability is stopping very many teens. I didn’t stop anyone in my school dats.

  6. J sub D, agreed. So?

  7. Qbryzan,So unlike the prohibitinists/drug warriors I don’t shy from the truth. I still support legalization but am way to cool to lie during a discussion of the pluses and minuses of my position.

  8. More 16 year olds smoking weed is probably one of the minuses of legalization.

  9. Fair enough. Odds are we agree then, that even if it means more teenagers will smoke, it still isn’t worth the costs of prohibition.

  10. More 16 year olds smoking weed is probably one of the minuses of legalization.

    But I thought that in countries where drug laws are more relaxed that teen use of pot was actually less than here.

  11. Only 20% of students smoke pot? That seems kinda low.

  12. Fair enough. Odds are we agree then, that even if it means more teenagers will smoke, it still isn’t worth the costs of prohibition.

    Absolutely. Billions of dollars no longer being collected by organized criminals, That’s a plus. Billions of taxpayer dollars no longer wasted on fighting the killer weed. That’s a plus. If MJ were legal, Jerrod Shivers would be alive, at home playing with his children, while Ryan Frederick and his fiancee would busy be planning their wedding. We don’t need any more of that shit.

    A few more kids doing what I did as a kid doesn’t come close to that level of harm.

    But I thought that in countries where drug laws are more relaxed that teen use of pot was actually less than here.

    That’s comparing apples to oranges. Other countries are not the U.S.

    Show evidence of multiple countries legalizing reefer with concurrent reductions in teenage use and you have a great debate point. I don’t believe you’ll find that evidence.

  13. We are not hive-minded utilitatrians. The relevant issue is freedom and self-ownership. doo-gooder social engineering always has unintended and unpredictable consequences.

  14. Apaulogist – I agree, but Sullum’s point is that to get the drug laws repealed we’ll have to convert a large number of hive-minded utilitarians to our side. We have to adjust our arguments to fit the audience.

  15. Fuck The Children

    At the least, abort them.

  16. sorry to be off-topic, but I love the “Atlas Events” side-ad. From the website, we learn that the conference venue
    “is located at the Portland State University campus and Portland’s lively and charming downtown is in walking distance-or an easy streetcar ride.”

    Imagine Ayn Rand taking a streetcar – a streetcar (with all of the unwashed parasites that take public transportation!) – to the government-owned University campus. Too funny!

  17. I disagree completely. When you’re 16, long-term health risks aren’t nearly as serious as the risk of failing out of school, becoming a drunk/pothead, getting a DUI, etc.

    Of course, the risk of failing out of school, etc. because of pot became legal for adults is vanishingly small. Anyone who is that taken with pot will be a heavy user regardless of whether its legal or not.

    And that’s the utilitarian point, really. The people for whom any drug will cause problems are precisely the people who will break the law to get it. The laws against drugs don’t prevent any real abuse; they only deter the casual/recreational user, who won’t be harmed by them, anyway.

  18. If we accept that marijuana use among adults in moderation is acceptable behavior tolerable in modern society- and we agree that the penalties for prohibition are excessive and redundant – denying legalization to said adults because more children may or may not partake (there is no conclusive evidence either way; experience seems to suggest that legalizing it takes away its coolness factor and rates drop. Regardless, availability for teens in the U.S. is not affected by the illegal designation other than to raise the price and possible risks thus enhancing its coolness factor by making it both exclusive and risky at the teenage level) is ridiculous.

    Given the prevalence of alcohol use; when compared to cannabis – i think i would prefer an increase in the rate of teenage cannabis smokers if it came on condition of decreased teenage alcohol drinkers. Thats a bargain with the devil I am willing to take. If anything, it can’t be worse than the status quo.

  19. I can’t wait for the “kids” to take over government from the Baby Boomers.

    They cannot do worse….

    Oh, you are so, so very wrong. They can do way, way worse.

    Fun fact:

    The Baby Boom generation was the first major generation to aggressively, and in many cases, publicly embrace drugs. “Peace, love, dope” was the war-cry of this generation.

    Today, we sit in the midst of a drug war which is, to be frank, almost uniformly in their control. What we have a situation where under the “pot smoking generation”, one has to fight tooth and nail to get a symbolic ‘medical marijuana’ law passed.

    This is in the midst of a total resurgence of prohibitionist thinking, much of which comes from Democratic lawmakers, the very ones who would– in any logical line of thought– be the ones most sympathetic to an anti-prohibitionist stance.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that we are not fighting a war with the drug warriors. We are no longer mounting battles in a major intiative to roll back the drug war. We have lost, been conquered and occupied, and the pro drug war troops are quartered in our houses, rummaging through our refrigerators, drinking our beer and sleeping with our women. The paltry medical marijuana initiatives which pop up from time to time represent little more than a rag-tag resistance to this occupation, whose only weapon is to short change the occupiers in an occasional transaction and draw rude charicatures and moustaches on the posters of their leaders. It’s time for a new strategy.

  20. This seems like all good news to me. It is quite possible for a 16 year old to smoke weed and still do fine in school and go on to live a happy productive life. The people who are going to be out of control with it are the fuckups who will do the same thing as adults and will do the same thing whether or not it it legal.
    I’d much rather see a kid smoking pot than drinking a lot or smoking tobacco.

  21. If pot is re-legalized and regulated, children will smoke it LESS. Prove me wrong…but to try and do that, you’ll have to RE-LEGALIZE first. Fear is the prohibitionists greatest ally.

  22. Of course cannabis law reforms should acknowledge that cannabis regulated for adults will fall into the hands of minors, however, it
    should be noted that most of the tobacco and alcohol teens use is diverted from the legal market, and is therefore quality controlled,
    labeled and taxed.

    Teens consistently report that cannabis is easier to obtain than tobacco and alcohol, although access is only slightly more influential on rates of use and abuse than criminal sanctions.

    Adults looking to score a lid, for medicinal purposes, would be well-advised to approach an adolescent relative or friend.

    What really controls use and abuse are fashions and social customs and moors. Teens learn to drink responsibly by example, and from hard won
    experience, which some of them do not survive.

    If a parent demonstrates to their children how to use cannabis responsibly, they risk losing custody. Prohibition interferes with
    education and the evolution of social customs and moors.

    We should also remember that cannabis is an economic substitute for others drugs, especially alcohol, but to a lessor extent tobacco.

    When cannabis use goes up, alcohol and all the harms associated with it go down, causing a net reduction in “drug-related” harm to both users and society. This may seem counter-intuitive, but “substitution theory” is economics 101 and the phenomenon has been well-studied and reported in peer-reviewed journals. In other words, suppressing cannabis use in any population of any age with access to alcohol is a very bad idea from a public health perspective.

  23. I was only seven when the baby boomers said they’d “change the world” yet all they changed was the amount of money in their pockets. Baby boomers, the so-called free-lovers, had a chance to ensure that hundreds of thousands of American wouldn’t have to suffer draconian Marijuana Prohibition laws, yet they let us down. (Not all but most did.) Now they want us to believe that 60 is the new 40! And they now, now, want us to empathize with their newfound sobriety.

    I’m now a little more than 40 and I say, “Those old neo-cons.” I hope they die soon so that those born behind them can fix up the mess they left behind.

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