Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jun 2014
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2014 Boulder Weekly
Author: Leland Rucker


I don't put a lot of faith in surveys, studies or polls, especially 
on hot-button issues like cannabis, when they are used by advocates 
or prohibitionists to bolster or attack one point of view or another. 
I'd like to be able to say, as some are these days, that because 
crime is down in Colorado in the five months since cannabis went on 
sale, that legalization is lowering crime. But nothing is that simple.

But a survey caught my eye this week. The national Youth Risk 
Behavior Survey (YRBS), managed by the national Centers for Disease 
Control, analyzes health-risk behaviors of youth and adults every two 
years and though not inclusive, assembles data given by students 
themselves about their habits and concerns.

The reason I perked up is because this one isn't done in the 
interests of either side of the cannabis debate. The questions are 
designed to find out more about high schoolers, from whether they 
carry weapons to the amount of fruit juice they drink and how much 
they work out. This year's test added questions about the use of 
hallucinogenic drugs, HIV testing, sunscreen and number of hours of 
sleep on an average school night among its 86 inquiries.

How many times have I heard prohibitionists talk about how 
legalization is guaranteed to make it easier for high schoolers and 
teens to obtain cannabis? It's become like a mantra by now and a 
standard operating talking point for groups like Smart Approaches to 
Marijuana (SAM) that oppose legalization.

The results, which date back to 1991, show encouraging trends in the 
decline of use of tobacco and alcohol among high schoolers since the 
highs of the 1990s. What caught my eye was that the data indicate 
that cannabis use between 2011 and 2013 around the country remained 
pretty static, and that at 23.4 percent, it's about 3 percent below 
the peak year (1999), when 27 percent of high schoolers said they had 
used cannabis in the last month.

These are hardly definitive data, and Colorado was among a few states 
whose numbers for 2011-13 weren't available for this survey. But 
between 2009-2011, a time of great growth in medical cannabis around 
Colorado, use among high schoolers declined by 3 percent.

This echoes another study published last year in the Journal of 
Adolescent Health which compared numbers from the YRBS database about 
high school cannabis use in states that have legalized medical 
marijuana with neighboring states that haven't. Its conclusion is 
simple and definitive: There has been no statistically significant 
year-to-year change in high school cannabis use rates since 2010.

"This study did not find increases in adolescent marijuana use 
related to legalization of medical marijuana," the study's authors 
concluded. "There were no statistically significant differences in 
marijuana use before and after policy change for any state pairing." 
Doesn't get much more clear than that.

What's disgraceful is that almost a quarter of youth were using 
cannabis over the years dating at least back to 1991, despite the 
efforts of the federal government to stop it. What I derive from 
these studies and data is that, despite prohibitionist fears, 
legalization is finally offering us the chance to control the 
distribution of cannabis.

Prohibitionists, of course, often use federal government and DEA 
statistics to prove whatever point they want to make. That's not such 
a good idea, either. Another new study, this one from the Drug Policy 
Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic 
Studies, looks at the history of the DEA and offers insights into 
some of the reasons why prohibition has been such an utter failure.

The title kind of says it all: "The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding And 
Rejecting Science." What the researchers found is that the DEA, which 
turns 41 years old on July 1, was given a mandate to use only 
rigorous science to create and administer drug policy. Yet the agency 
has routinely shunned its own studies, advisors and recommendations 
all the way back to Richard Nixon, who ignored a study mandated by 
the Controlled Substances Act that called for legalizing cannabis, 
and instead made it a Schedule I drug.

The agency has systematically slowed attempts to reschedule cannabis. 
"The DEA took 16 years to issue a final decision rejecting the first 
marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine 
years for the third," the authors write. "In two of the three cases, 
it took multiple lawsuits to force the agency to act."

While maintaining that there are no legitimate medical uses for 
cannabis, the DEA also controls the cannabis that can be used for 
testing that might show or prove otherwise, thereby keeping 
responsible science away from the process and stonewalling any effort 
to reschedule cannabis for medical purposes.

The agency has been funded no matter who is president or which party 
controls Congress. One hopes that the recent vote in the House of 
Representatives that would stop the DEA from raiding or otherwise 
interfering in states which have legalized medical cannabis, would be 
at least a warning shot that even Congress is beginning to pay 
attention to its misdeeds and failures.

Meanwhile, there are encouraging signs that teenage use of cannabis 
is holding steady or going down. Legalization is finally giving us a 
chance to keep it that way.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom