It’s official (still), the marijuana experiment in Colorado has failed

If there has been any doubt that the legal marijuana policy in Colorado has been a failure, new numbers from US Health and Human Services seal the deal.  The new 2013-2014 report of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that Colorado is now 1st in the nation for past month use of marijuana amongst 12 – 17 year olds.  In the previous 2012-2013 report they were 3rd, in 2011-2012 they were fourth.  What’s more, back in 2006, before there was legal retail marijuana, and before Colorado’s hyper-commercialized medical marijuana program, they were way back at number 14.  Objectively, legalized commercialized marijuana has created more use of marijuana amongst Colorado youth.  You can’t look at these numbers and argue otherwise.

In case you were wondering, other states in the top 6 for 2013-2014 were the District of Columbia (#4), Oregon (#5), and Washington (#6). These are all states that have also legalized retail marijuana.  Other recent reports show troubling trends emerging in legalized states.  A 2015 report from Washington State indicates the percentage of DUIs related to marijuana has almost doubled since that state legalized retail marijuana.  That same report found that 85% of drivers in fatal car crashes tested positive for marijuana were testing positive for active THC, indicating driver impairment.

The other growing public health crisis in legalized states like Colorado and Washington is the rising numbers of marijuana poisonings, particularly amongst very young children.  Those poisonings in Colorado have risen 147% since legalization.  Basically, this simply wasn’t an issue that existed before marijuana was legalized, now it is a huge problem and sending countless children to the hospital.  And should we be surprised when the marijuana industry makes and markets products like this?

mj gummy bearsMeanwhile, Maine’s bi-annual survey on drug and health issues, the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS), also released it’s more recent survey numbers for 2015. The data shows that the rates of marijuana use amongst Maine high school and middle school youth remain high while significant reductions have been made in the areas of alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drug misuse.

The 2015 MIYHS data shows that Maine is still seeing 1 in 5 high school youth reporting using marijuana in the past 30 days.  While that number didn’t go up from 2013, it has remained stalled since 2009 while youth use of all other substances has trended down.  Clearly there are influences keeping those numbers high.  One obvious and likely culprit is normalization as we see now 60% of high school youth believing there is no risk from youth regularly using marijuana.  That is the highest that number has been since this survey has been conducted.  Back in 2009 that number was at 40%.

Clearly we are seeing the impact of the national trend of the further commercialization and normalization of marijuana right here in Maine. Legalization campaigns continue to mislead and send mixed messages to our youth by touting marijuana as a “safe”. Meanwhile Maine’s medical marijuana industry turns a terminal cancer patient’s purchase of their products into a media circus and PR stunt. The impact of this normalization is corroborated by the many reports SAM Maine receives from parents and educators all across the state. I am constantly hearing from these Mainers that their children and students are using marijuana because of all these messages telling them it is “safe.”
The fact that Maine’s youth marijuana numbers remain high while other youth drug use trends down should be a red flag for Mainers and lawmakers alike. The new data from Colorado should also be a red flag. You cannot look at the youth use numbers and public health data and call that policy a success.  Any policy that increases harms to youth and to the public is a failed policy.  Maine should not repeat Colorado’s mistake and adopt this failed policy, and certainly not now. The last thing we need is further normalization and use of drugs in the midst of a drug addiction crisis.
Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.