The U.S. legal cannabis industry reached record sales figures during the past 12 months as millions of Americans emerged from stay-at-home orders to return to more normal lives and in-person job settings.
But, in an encouraging revelation, cannabis use among youth declined significantly over the same period, according to a federal survey released on Wednesday.
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The 2021 Monitoring the Future Report, published annually by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and featuring research by the University of Michigan, found just 7.1 percent of 8th graders reported using marijuana so far in 2021, compared to 11.4 percent in 2020. Only 17.3 percent of surveyed 10th graders said they used the plant this year—compared to 28 percent in 2020—and 30.5 percent of 12th graders, compared to 35.2 percent last year.
Cannabis vaping also fell sharply: usage by 8th graders dropped to 4.7 percent this year from 8.1 percent last year, usage by 10th graders fell to 12.4 percent this year from 19.1 percent last year, and usage by 12th graders skidded to 18.3 percent this year from 22.1 percent last year.
The report, which has tracked adolescent drug use since 1975, incorporated self-reporting by 32,260 students across 319 schools from February to June. It found that youth use of alcohol, tobacco, nicotine vaping and all other illegal substances also saw sharp downturns.
NIDA Director Nora Volkow said the dramatic decreases in drug use represented all-time records for reductions during a 12-month period.
“These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents,” Volkow said in a release.
She cited extra time at home during pandemic-imposed lockdowns and increased access to interactions away from school as possible reasons for the uptick in youth drug use during 2020.
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How policies are impacted
Advocates received Wednesday’s survey results positively, saying the data provides more evidence that supports legalizing marijuana for adults doesn’t lead to increased underage usage.
“These latest findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that marijuana regulation policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.