Marijuana Legalization Did Not Initially Boost Underage Access in Washington

The percentage of students who say pot is easy to get shows little change in recent years.


Survey data from Washington indicate that legalizing marijuana for adults 21 or older in that state did not initially make it easier for teenagers to obtain the drug. But that finding should be interpreted with caution, since the most recent numbers come from 2014, the first year of legal recreational sales, which did not begin until the middle of the year.

According to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, which is conducted in even-numbered years, 66 percent of high school seniors said it would be "sort of easy" or "very easy" for them to obtain marijuana in 2014, the same as in 2012, when voters approved legalization. During the same period, that figure rose slightly for 10th-graders (from 51 percent to 53 percent), fell for eighth-graders (from 26 percent to 21 percent), and stayed the same (7 percent) for sixth-graders. Over all, reported ease of access has been essentially flat since 2008. The same survey indicates that past-month marijuana use stayed the same or fell slightly in all grades between 2012 and 2014.

Washington State Healthy Youth Survey

An upcoming article in the Journal of Adolescent Health, previewed at a pediatric conference in Baltimore on Sunday, notes that the share of 10th-graders reporting "easy" access to marijuana was essentially the same in 2014 (53 percent) as in 2010 (54 percent). "It is both surprising and reassuring that teens didn't perceive that marijuana was easier to access after it was legalized for recreational use by adults," said one of the study's authors, New York pediatrician Andrew Adesman, in a press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

That AAP press release, headlined "Legalization of Marijuana in Washington State Shown to Have Had No Effect on Teens' Access to Drug," led to some reports that exaggerated the significance of the study's findings. According to High Times, Adesman and his colleagues say "legalization has no effect on teen pot smoking," while The Weed Blog reported that the researchers found "marijuana legalization does not make it easier for teens to get marijuana." Such conclusions are premature.

The 2014 survey was conducted in mid-October, just three and a half months after legal recreational sales began. Before then, recreational consumers were allowed to possess marijuana, but they had no legal way to obtain it, since Washington allows home cultivation only for medical use. Furthermore, the opening of state-licensed marijuana shops was a gradual process, with just a few operating initially. The 2016 survey, which will cover a period when more than 200 stores were operating and retail prices started to fall, will tell us more.

When it comes to the availability of marijuana to teenagers, two things can be expected to happen when legal merchants replace black-market dealers (something that has not happened yet in Washington, which still has a thriving black market, largely because taxes and regulations put licensed dealers at a competitive disadvantage). First, minors will have more difficulty buying marijuana directly from retailers, since legal merchants risk losing their licenses if they sell to customers younger than 21. Second, minors will have more opportunities to obtain marijuana indirectly from adult buyers, with or without the latter's consent. Which of these factors will have more of an impact on underage access and consumption remains an open question.

It may be significant that the percentage of Washington teenagers who said it was "hard" to get alcohol or cigarettes rose from 2010 to 2014 while no such trend was apparent for marijuana. Adesman called that contrast "interesting and somewhat concerning." It might indicate that "current public health efforts around drug abuse prevention may be less effective for marijuana than for other substances," as the AAP press release puts it. Then again, it may reflect the continuing role of a black market in which dealers do not card their customers. 


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  1. This article is a lie because I heard about a kid in the next town over who took a handful of marijuanas and then killed his family and when the police came to get him he took more marijuanasand fought them but then they killed him.

    1. Anyone who does the marijuanas deserves to die.

  2. Pot is proven to cause brain damage in the developing brain and leads to harder drugs like meth and smack. Yes this is proven. Anyone who advocates making it easier for kids to get pot should be fed feet first into a woodchipper.

    1. Even taking a government study at face value:

      So what?

      Alcohol consumption may lead to liver failure, but you nanny statist fucks can go fuck yourselves if you want to save me from myself.

      1. The children are gonna get hopped up on crack and carjack you. Because you let them do the marijuanas. And yes this is proven.

        1. This is why libertarians must be stopped. If they win and take over, little kids will be able to buy dope and machine guns out of vending machines.

        2. Sock puppeting gets old pretty quickly.

        3. So this is your shtick? Trolling us with pro-drug war comments? Well all right, I guess. You gotta put more effort into it and at least make us chuckle.

          1. Back in the day we had some proper drugwar trolling. What were the handles? Neil? Juanita?

            1. Alice Bowie used to play, too.

    2. Who needs meth and smack, the devil’s weed is so strong today. I mean, it’s not your granpa’s weed. I hear they just squeeze a bud into a spoon and then they shoot it up. They stay high for a week, hallucinating, trying to fly, eating kittens, all of that stuff.

      1. Or eating entire containers of weed-based personal lubricant. If companies didn’t want customers to do that, they shouldn’t be allowed to sell it.

        1. It’s great on an English muffin.

        2. You do know that there is a cannabinoid infused personal lubricant called Foria? being sold in California and Colorado, right? Also available in vaginal suppository form:

  3. It may be significant that the percentage of Washington teenagers who said it was “hard” to get alcohol or cigarettes rose from 2010 to 2014

    Washington’s sin taxes might be significant in how “hard” it is for minors to get alcohol or cigarettes.

    The Tax Foundation found Washingtonians pay $35.22 per gallon of spirits, $8.52 more than before privatization and by far the highest in the nation. (Oregon, the state with the second-highest taxes on spirits, pays $22.73 per gallon.)

    Washington has a smuggling problem, exacerbated by a large tax gap with its neighbors.

    The state’s tax on cigarettes is $3.02 a pack, compared to $1.18 in Oregon and 57 cents in Idaho.

    1. Wow. I can buy a gallon of shitty vodka for less than the tax you’d pay on it in WA or OR. And half of the price I’d pay is still made up of state and federal taxes.

      1. Or you can pay me half that to punch you in the liver.

        1. I’m not saying I would, just that I could. I just find it remarkable how incredibly cheap low-cost spirits are when you take away the taxes.

          1. True. I guess it takes little effort to just run a still. Aging the spirits is where the costs are.

            1. And distilling in such a way that it doesn’t taste like poison.

              1. And quality raw ingredients.

  4. “It is both surprising and reassuring that teens didn’t perceive that marijuana was easier to access after it was legalized for recreational use by adults,” said one of the study’s authors…

    …who didn’t want his teenage son bogarting the easy weed.

    1. He would probably feel safer buying from his teenage son’s seller, who isn’t carding him or recording the transaction.

  5. Kids always exaggerate the availability of drugs. The only ones who believe them are news anchors and the geezers who get their info from teevee news.

    I’d like to see a follow-through when some tween claims they can get geef or dope in a half-hour: you’ll wait the entire afternoon and evening for the Pusherman to come through or you’ll get handed a bag full of lawn clippings and out $60.

    1. The half hour thing is probably an exaggeration. If things are at all like my youth, there’s a lot of waiting around or trying to find people (though cell phones have probably fixed a lot of that) But I have no doubt it is that available. Weed is pretty abundant these days.

    2. Half-hour? That’s just how long you have to endure the shitty small talk when you stop by to pick up the baggie.

  6. Australian tech entrepreneur implicated in death of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, issues gristly warning of deaths to come:

    “Satoshi is dead,” he said. “But this is only the beginning.” […] “I have not done this because it is what I wanted. It’s not because of my choice,” he told the BBC.

  7. Can we stop pretending that availability to teenagers is a problem that needs to be solved?

    1. Especially having seen the effects of prohibition on underage drinkers. The current consent debacle is, I think, due in a large part to how cosseted and inexperienced college students are coming in contact with alcohol either for the first time or outside the confines imposed by illegal drinking.

    2. “Can we stop pretending that availability to teenagers is a problem that needs to be solved?”

      I doubt it. Worrying about the availability of things to teenagers has been the great American pastime–older than baseball. If it wasn’t for marijuana and sexting, they’d be worried about music and white slavery.

      I think we could have better responses to it.

      1) The drug war is no substitute for good parenting. There is no substitute for good parenting.

      Responsible parents keep the liquor cabinet locked up, too.

      2) The end of the black market makes life easier for responsible parents.

      If the black market for cannabis starts to collapse because of legalization, then make it easier for responsible parents to prevent their children from getting their hands on the stuff–even if it makes it harder for irresponsible parents.

      Responsible parents should prefer an environment that rewards responsible parenting–rather than the black market, which makes it harder for responsible parents to protect their children from cannabis.

      1. I think that part of responsible parenting involves some acceptance of the fact that your kids are likely to do some drinking and smoke some weed in their teenage years and helping them learn that those things can be done in a responsible way.

        1. It’s hard for children to get their hands on alcohol without the assistance of some legally accountable adult or some irresponsible parent–who leaves the liquor cabinet unlocked. Children can get marijuana directly from other children because of the black market.

          It’s just easier for parents to restrict what their children do when the black market isn’t undermining responsible parents. For those parents who do not want their children indulging, the black market is their worst enemy, and legalization is their friend.

          Getting parents who care to stop worrying about the impact of marijuana on their children is probably a losing strategy. It may be that the more parents hear that argument, the more they want the drug war.

          I understand the average age children lose their virginity is between 16 and 17, but it’s probably unreasonable to expect parents to stop worrying about their children having sex, too. Swimmers swim. Actors act. Parents worry about their children. That’s what parents do.

  8. If the availability of weed to children doesn’t start to converge with the availability of alcohol in the wake of legalization, then there’s probably something wrong with the way the data is being collected.

    It may be, however, that if more people are consuming cannabis because it’s legal and if the rate of children who pinch from their parents, older siblings, etc. is the same as those who sneak into the liquor cabinet, then the absolute number of children with access to cannabis might rise.

    1. Ken, we cannabis law reform advocates are counting on that convergence. But it does appear that you’ve made a baseless presumption about the direction of youth use of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol and didn’t bother to look up the statistics. Enforcing age restrictions at the point of sale works. Leaving the task to organized criminal syndicates and individuals who don’t mind committing a significant number of felonies in the normal course of business not so much.

      Myself thinks that the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System from the CDC is significantly more likely to be accurate. That’s based on methodology and number of students surveyed. Below are the numbers for smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, and cannabis for high school students in 1991 and 2013.

      Ever tried cigarette smoking (even one or two puffs)
      1991: 70.1%
      2013: 41.1%

      Smoked a whole cigarette before age 13 years
      (for the first time)
      1991: 23.8%
      2013: 9.3%

      Currently smoked cigarettes (on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 27.5%
      2013: 15.7%

      Currently smoked cigarettes frequently (on 20 or more days during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 12.7%
      2013: 5.6%

      Smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day (among students who currently smoked cigarettes on the days they smoked during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 18.0%
      2013: 8.6%

      Smoked cigarettes on all 30 days (during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 9.8%
      2013: 4.0%

    2. Ever had at least one drink of alcohol
      (on at least 1 day during their life)
      1991: 81.6%
      2013: 66.2%

      Drank alcohol before age 13 years
      (for the first time other than a few sips)
      1991: 32.7%
      2013: 18.6%

      Currently drank alcohol
      (at least one drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 50.8%
      2013: 34.9%

      Had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row (within a couple of hours on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 31.3%
      2013: 20.8%

    3. Ever used marijuana (one or more times during their life)
      1991: 31.3%
      2013: 40.7%

      Tried marijuana before age 13 years
      (for the first time)
      1991: 7.4%
      2013: 8.6%

      Currently used marijuana (one or more times during the 30 days before the survey)
      1991: 14.7%
      2013: 23.4%

  9. Every time I see the results of these surveys published a vivid picture of Beavis and Butthead being surveyed.

    To the best of my knowledge they hadn’t invented a name for my state of being when I was in high school (1974 to 1978). Today they call it Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I can’t argue that the name isn’t an absolutely perfect descriptor. Had I ever been surveyed I would have lied through my teeth to the survey taker. I think that maybe Oregon has come up with the solution. The Oregon Healthy Teen Survey has come up with a solution. The last question asked is if the students surveyed have given honest answers. Because as everyone knows if you ask a liar if they’re lying they’re obligated to confess.

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