Cannabis consumption by US teenagers fell in 2016, according to a new report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Alcohol use rates among teens, however, have risen—leaving some to wonder if minors may be substituting cannabis for alcohol.
Past-month youth cannabis-use rates among minors aged 12 to 17 have gently but steadily decreased since 2002. The rate in 2016—6.5%, down half a percentage point from a year earlier—is now the lowest in more than 20 years, according to SAMHSA data released this month.
The report also found that teen cannabis consumption has fallen every year since 2014, when Colorado and Washington first legalized adult-use cannabis. Past month alcohol use, however, has been on the rise since 2014.
The data released from SAMHSA are the latest evidence that legalizing cannabis for both medical and adult use does not increase teen consumption rates, contrary to fears raised by leading legalization critics.
Morgan Fox, a Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson, said in a statement that even among advocates of cannabis legalization, proposed policy reforms have been focused on responsible use by adults.
“Critics of legalization worry about the message being sent to youth by marijuana policy reform efforts, but the real message is that marijuana should only be used by responsible adults, and it seems to be sinking in,” he said. “Regulating marijuana for adults reinforces that message and creates effective mechanisms for making it more difficult for teens to obtain marijuana.”
One of the age groups that saw the biggest drop in alcohol consumption was individuals aged 18-25. Since 2014, past-month alcohol consumption among that group has dropped from 59.6% to 57.1%. The age group also consumes the most cannabis.
“Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” Fox said, “and regulation gives adults the legal option to choose the safer substance.”
The SAMHSA survey is just the latest report to show cannabis consumption falling among teens since states began implementing adult-use cannabis laws. In February, data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that the rate of cannabis consumption among adolescents “has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users.”
And in Washington state, a study released last week by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, a government think tank, found that teen cannabis consumption has decreased or remained steady in the state since legalization.