Study: Teens smoking more pot as medical use lowers fears

Teenagers are smoking more marijuana, and their perceptions about the drugs’ dangers have dropped dramatically over the past decade, according to a new government-backed study.

Officials say that the trend is a sign of the failure of medical marijuana regimes to restrict pot from getting into children's hands and should refute activists who support regulating or legalizing the drug.

About 60 percent of high school seniors say marijuana is not harmful, according to an annual study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, up from about 56 percent last year. More than 6 percent smoke marijuana daily, which is more than a three-fold increase from 1993.

The report also found that about a third of high school seniors who smoke pot in states with medical marijuana obtained the drug through someone else’s prescription.

“The promise in medical marijuana states to the voters was that there would be regulatory schemes to prevent marijuana from falling into the hands of young people. In every state, that promise has clearly been broken,” said Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“This provides a potential avenue for young people to get marijuana, and I think that’s something about which most people are pretty concerned,” he added.

The study measured drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th and 12th graders across the country. 

Nationally, 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for some medical purposes.

Those rules are technically in conflict with federal law, however, which led to a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in President Obama’s first term. Since then, federal officials have changed track and backed off prosecution on many dispensaries and individual users.

Conflicting federal and state laws on marijuana only increased last year, when voters in the states of Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The Obama administration has pledged not to block those laws.

The prevalence of legal marijuana could continue to lower teenagers’ perceived dangers about the substance in those states and throughout the country though, which could further increase drug use, officials said.

“It seems improbable that we could have as many states having medical marijuana laws, and now two states having full legalization, and that wouldn’t have an impact on how young people see marijuana,” said Lloyd Johnston, a University of Michigan professor who led the new study.