After regaining the majority for the 114th Congress just a few short weeks ago, some Republicans are already plotting ways to block Washington, D.C.'s move to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who’s leading the charge, argues that legalizing marijuana would make things "even worse for D.C.'s teenagers and young adults than the decriminalization." 


Incoming Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah)--a staunch opponent to marijuana legalization—said in a 2010 statement, "smoking marijuana is a health danger, not a cure, and therefore remains a harmful and dangerous drug for people of all ages." 

The arguments against legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington D.C. are not new—in fact, they’ve been around for decades—illustrating the same tired story that opponents to marijuana have been rehashing over and over again. 

The idea that legalizing marijuana will take their children away from their parents is as mythical as the bogeyman. If anything, it is the criminalization of marijuana that should be feared. In 2012, the CDC published its annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) report. The report showed that teenage consumption and the availability of drugs on school grounds went up in states where marijuana remained criminalized. However, in Colorado, consumption went down and availability went down despite the medical marijuana industry developing in the state during the same period. 

According to a recent white paper from the Cato Institute, teenage consumption of marijuana didn't increase in the sixteen states that legalized medical marijuana. Recent data also shows that despite legalizing recreational marijuana, teenage consumption of marijuana in Colorado is still falling, decreasing from 39 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2013. Additionally, after states legalized medical marijuana suicide rates among men aged from 20 to 39 years decreased compared with those in states where legalization didn't take place. 

So while we should be concerned about teenage consumption of marijuana, its legalization is not the cause. It's in its prohibition that should concern us. It turns marijuana into a forbidden fruit making it more appealing to teenagers. In addition, prohibition of marijuana allows for black market drug producers to target children and teenagers--maximizing their profits without any scruples. Not only will they not hesitate to sell their drugs to teenagers, they also recruit teenagers, often from low-income families, to sell drugs waving the "easy cash, low risk you are juvenile" card. 

Regardless of their personal feelings, more Republicans should at least take the approach of Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial GOP warns of 'drawn out' executive privilege battle over Bolton testimony  Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses MORE (R-Wis.). 

“I can’t support it myself because I think it sets a really bad example for young children,” Johnson said. “But states are doing that. Let the voters decide … Again, I like local control of those issues and then what we can do here in Congress is hold hearings, find out, how’s it working?” 

Congressional Republicans may be well-intended in their desire to “protect us,” young and old, from marijuana and drugs in general, but it’s time to examine the hard data and put outdated urban legends to sleep.

Padilla is an associate professor of Economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver and the director of the Exploring Economic Freedom Project. He can be reached at