Two recently released survey reports from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment offer evidence that while marijuana use has increased among adults in the state, among youth it has remained steady.
The two surveys are the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
According to the department, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of middle and high schools is conducted every two years, while the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System “is a telephone survey of adults that collects statewide data about residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services.”
According to the department, “The biennial survey…sampled approximately 56,000 youth from…randomly selected middle and high schools.” The results show that “youth marijuana use has not changed since before legalization. In 2013, 20 percent of youth said they used marijuana and in 2017, 19 percent said they had. The national average for youth marijuana use was 20 percent in 2017.” For adults, marijuana use “increased from 13.6 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2017.”
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System also polled on the question of use in the previous thirty days, with about 15 percent of adults answering yes. This number represents an increase from previous surveys, and the department concludes that the driving factor in this increase was the 18-to-34 age group, which “increased from 19.4 percent in 2016 to 26.4 percent in 2017.” Of those adults who have used marijuana (with most smoking it) in the past thirty days, about a quarter said they used it about once a month, another quarter once a week, and the remainder about once a day.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows that Colorado youth do not use marijuana at a higher rate than elsewhere in the country. In the legal state and in the United States generally, about 19 percent of young people say that they have had marijuana in the last thirty days. Similarly, about 35 percent say that they have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, and about 6 percent say they tried marijuana before they were thirteen.
The survey also says that Asian youth were the least likely to have tried marijuana in the last thirty days—about 9 percent. The percentage for black, Latino, API, and white youth is in the range of 20 percent. The report says that “[t]ransgender and LGB youth are more likely to use marijuana than cisgender and heterosexual youth.”
In a statement, Governor John Hickenlooper addressed the survey results: “Preventing young people from using marijuana is a statewide priority. While youth use hasn’t gone up, we are working hard to educate Colorado parents and their children about the health and legal risks of underage marijuana use.”
An article in the Denver Post criticizes the reporting of the surveys, noting that their sample size is small and that therefore not too much can be read into their results. That article, however, does not cite better surveys but does provide anecdotal evidence that perhaps more youths are smoking marijuana after all, or at least not being shy about it with school police officers.
In the absence of better data, however, it seems reasonable to conclude that legalization in Colorado has not led to an increase in marijuana use among those under eighteen and that use has increased among young adults.
What do you think? Are the surveys accurate? Leave a comment below.