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Don't Blame The Reefer

Watch out, medical marijuana opponents, teen drug use isn’t your scapegoat anymore.

Economists analyzing teen drug use over time found that while the rate of teens smoking (and eating and vaporizing) marijuana has been increasing since 2005, medical marijuana legalization doesn’t contribute to that rise.

Benjamin Hansen, an assistant professor of economics at the UO who studies risky behavior, says that the finding is relevant to both medical marijuana advocates and those who want to curtail teen drug use. “If we’re looking at what is causing increases in teen marijuana use — it has gone up pretty substantially from 2005 to 2011 — we’ll have to look further beyond medical marijuana laws,” he says.

Cheryl Smith, executive director of Eugene’s medical marijuana-supporting Compassion Center, says that because of the difficulty of getting a medical marijuana card, “I’m not surprised by the finding.” Smith says she hopes the study will help reverse misconceptions about the impacts of medical marijuana.

The study compared teen drug use in states before and after they passed medical marijuana legalization, then looked at the same numbers for neighboring states to account for cultural changes. That made the economists able to estimate what the trend in a legal-medical-marijuana state might be had the law not passed.

They repeated with three more independent, nationally representative data sets and found no correlation between teen marijuana use and medical marijuana. “If anything,” Hansen says, “it’s a slight decrease” that the study found in those medical pot states.

What, then, is driving the rising rate of teen marijuana use nationwide? Hansen says the jury’s still out, but there’s been a lot of discussion about the changes in the national perception of drug dangers. “Perceptions of the dangers regarding alcohol gone up, and correspondingly alcohol consumption has slightly declined during this time period,” he says, “whereas perceptions regarding the dangers of marijuana use has gone down, and marijuana use has gone up.”

Smith adds, “I think people are starting to take it seriously as medicine, they’re not seeing it just a way to get high.”