Drug Policy

Teen Pot Smoking 'Surges' While Staying the Same


According to the latest Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey, the percentage of high school students who said they had ever tried marijuana fell between 2010 and 2011, the percentage reporting past-year use remained the same, and the percentage reporting past-month use rose slightly. But that is not what the press release from the Partnership at Drugfree.org (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America) said. The organization, which sponsors the survey together with the MetLife Foundation, led with this instead: "National Study: Teen 'Heavy' Marijuana Use Up 80 Percent Since 2008, One in Ten Teens Reports Using Marijuana at Least 20 Times a Month."

Sexier, right? News outlets sure thought so:

Report: Frequent marijuana smoking up 80 percent among teens

Study: Teen marijuana use on the rise

More Teens Smoking Marijuana, Survey Says

Pot Use Soars Among Teens, Survey Finds

Survey: Teen Marijuana Use Surging

And so on. Those summaries definitely sound more alarming than, say, "Marijuana Use Among Teenagers Remains Essentially Unchanged." But they're not quite as—what's the word?—true. The increase hyped by the Partnership happened almost entirely between 2008 and 2009. Since then the numbers have been basically flat. Furthermore, the numbers recorded last year are virtually indistinguishable from the numbers recorded in 1998, the earliest year for which the new report includes data.

Data from the Monitoring the Future Study, which is conducted by University of Michigan researchers under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, show a similar pattern: Marijuana use rates are essentially the same now as they were in the late 1990s. In between, they went down and up for reasons that remain unclear but that probably have little to do with anti-drug ads, medical marijuana laws, the number of pot busts, or the federal government's drug control "strategy."

One notable difference between the Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey (PATS) and the Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study: The PATS numbers tend to be higher, especially for "heavy" marijuana use—meaning use on 20 or more days in the previous month, which MTF calls "daily" use. While PATS put "heavy" use at 9 percent of all high school students last year, MTF put it at less than 7 percent for seniors, who are more likely to smoke pot than younger students are. Averaging seniors with 10th-graders, the MTF number is about 5 percent, meaning the PATS number is nearly twice as high. Since the sampled populations are supposed to be about the same, maybe PATS is eliciting more candor—or more exaggeration.

Speaking of which, "daily" marijuana use by high school seniors in the MTF survey peaked at nearly 11 percent in 1978. As I noted in a 1993 Reason article about marijuana reform, such figures should be taken with a grain of salt:

These numbers overstate the percentage of seniors who got stoned every day in the late '70s. First of all, they don't represent actual daily use throughout the year–only use on 20 or more of the previous 30 days. Granted, that's still pretty heavy. But the numbers include kids who had recently gone through a brief period of heavy use. And as Mark Kleiman, associate professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, notes in Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control, the data are probably inflated by error or exaggeration: Experience with marketing surveys indicates that questions about habitual activities like "On how many of the last 30 days did you use marijuana?" tend to elicit systematic overreporting. Furthermore, the 11-percent "daily use" figure appears to be inconsistent with information from NlDA's household survey.

In any event, the corresponding PATS number, contrary to the impression given by the Partnership's press release and the stories it generated, did not go up in the most recent survey.

NEXT: Shepard Smith Speaks Some Truth

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s like the spending cuts that are actually spending increases. The actual numbers don’t matter; it’s how you feel about them that matters.

  2. Why does Sean Penn look like he is reading an awful restaurant menu 24/7?

    He has the “UGHH.. gross” face all the time. Even when in the presence of OO-GOh!

    I tend to be very skeptical of Joeseph Califano and NIDA’s numbers, since their primary, stated goal is to eradicate “illicit” drug use.

    Nora Valkow’s goal of finding a “cure” for addiction is, IMMO, a fool’s errand, and most likely not possible without developing some total “anhedonia vaccine.” Short of a real life Ludovico technique, I don’t see a viable “cure” for true drug addiction. I’m for finding better interventions to help addicts maintain abstinence and sobriety if they want the help.

    NIDA, leave the pot alone. Quit demonizing it.

  3. All that picture reminds me of is how much I hate Sean Penn.

    1. Chris Penn kicked ass. Probably kicked Sean Penn’s ass.

      1. Yeah, well William Penn has a big hat.

        1. The Quaker Oats guy? Yeah, he’s pretty cool.

  4. “National Study: Teen ‘Heavy’ Marijuana Use Up 80 Percent Since 2008, One in Ten Teens Reports Using Marijuana at Least 20 Times a Month.”

    This doesn’t sound like they are making a serious statement. This would be a good lead up to announcing their withdrawal from drug policy activism. Leading your report with “National Study” followed by outrageous statistics in the same manner as advertisements for penis enlargement products is comedy.

    Back to the real world…

    1. Which is more stupid though? The ridiculas statistics or the idea that we should double down on the same policies that produced them?

  5. All those newspapers came to the conclusion that this means prohibition isn’t working and we should try something else, right?

  6. C’mon dude. I know you are trying to make a point, but lets try to be fair. The only possible errors in the survey that you can imagine are ones that would make it overstated? How about, some people don’t want to admit they use drugs, or don’t want to admit even to themselves how much they do.

    I find 11% of seniors to seem low. It sure was in my aptly named high school, where it was openly smoked on the front steps of the school before classes daily, and the administration never even attempted to stop it.

    1. I’m in High School right now. Trust me, no kid ‘doesn’t want to admit how much drugs he does’. We’re more likely to be afraid to admit how little we do (some of us).

      1. And I’m sure every single high school student tells the truth too. All of them. All the time. Especially when prompted by an authority figure.

        Before you comment, it helps to think.

    2. bagoh20 you must have been in high school in the 1970s. That’s the way it was at my high school, from which I received my degree in 1978. Only recently I read about a 15 year old who committed suicide because of my alma mater’s zero tolerance policy, so I know that things have changed, drastically and for the worse.

    3. It sure was in my aptly named high school, where it was openly smoked on the front steps of the school before classes daily, and the administration never even attempted to stop it.

      I went to high school in the mid-’90s and this was not even close to being possible then. It was possible, by contrast, to smoke tobacco cigarettes, in front of adults, on school grounds after school.

      Nowadays I’m pretty sure that gets you thrown into juvie.

  7. !!! Keep DOPE Alive !!!

    1. You got kicked off of the basketball team, for wearing high heeled sneakers, and acting like a queen. Why should we take anything you say seriously?

  8. What the fuck is Drugfree.org smoking and why ain’t they sharing ?

    Bastards !!!!

  9. 20 times a month isn’t even everyday usage. Better than being a pack a day cigarette smoker by a wide margin.

    1. It’s not better for your brain (unless you’re smoking some real shwag/lawn clippings)

    2. It’s not better for your brain (unless you’re smoking some real shwag/lawn clippings)

  10. lol, a little pot never hurt anyone dude, I mean seriously lol.


  11. Reefer Madness 2012-style!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.