HARTFORD, CT — Those opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana in Connecticut are armed with a new study that shows that states that have legalized pot have a higher percentage of teenage users.
According to Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that more young people are trying marijuana for the first time in Colorado, the first state to allow recreational use, than anywhere else in the nation. The study by SAMHSA, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also finds that Colorado is at the top of the list for the lowest perception of risk of using cannabis among teens.
A press release from SAM highlights two other findings from the study above others:
• Almost 8 percent of Colorado teens admitted to using cannabis for the first time last year, compared with 7.9 percent in Massachusetts, 7.4 percent in Washington, D.C., and 7.1 percent in Alaska — all jurisdictions where recreational use has been made legal in conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act.
• Past-month usage is double in “legal” states among all age groups, and 45 percent higher in the 12- to 17-year-old category (9.1 percent versus 6.3 percent).
“The effects of legalization are revealing our worst fears,” Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, president and founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), and a former White House drug policy advisor, said. “Big Pot’s profits-over-people business model is hooking more people on highly potent marijuana gummies, candies, waxes, and blunts while governments look the other way. How many lives have to be affected until we take action?”
In addition, SAM lists the following other findings of note from the study:
• In 2017, past-month marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds was highest in Vermont (10.75 percent), followed by Oregon (10.35 percent).
• In 2017, past-year marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds was highest in Vermont (17.88 percent), followed by Oregon (17.01 percent).
• In 2017, perception of great risk from smoking marijuana once a month among 12- to 17-year-olds was lowest in Colorado (16.21 percent), followed by Oregon (16.84 percent).
The study “comes as no surprise” to William “Bo” Huhn, a spokesman for both CT Smart Approaches to Marijuana and Guilford Development Assets for Youth (DAY), a group of Guilford high school students and other advocates that is opposed to legalization.
“Anybody who would believe that legalization wouldn’t lead to an increase in use amongst young people is just wrong,” Huhn said. “Just the commercialization and marketing that occurs in a state after legalization happens should make it pretty obvious that increased use is a given.”
Huhn said he finds it “shocking” that there isn’t more stringent regulations over marketing of recreational marijuana in the state’s that have legalized.
Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a research scientist and professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, and one who has frequently testified against legalizing marijuana in front of the legislature, like Huhn, wasn’t shocked by the study.
“Well — I can’t imagine why anyone would be surprised,” D’Souza said. “Adolescence is also a period of heightened vulnerability for addiction. I am concerned that with legalization, comes commercialization, and one strategy of commercial entities is to ‘catch ‘em young’ to make lifelong consumers.”
D’Souza added: “Then, there is the effect of cannabis on adolescents who are only just learning how to drive. Isn’t driving on I-95 risky enough?”
Huhn, D’Souza, and those opposed to legalization for recreational use know that this year may be the toughest one yet to prevent the passage of a new law.
“It’s clearly going to be a significant issue for the legislature,” Huhn said, when the new General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Governor-elect Ned Lamont told Connecticut Public Radio listeners recently that “legalizing marijuana is an idea whose time has come,” and with Massachusetts starting sales, advocates for legalization would like to see Connecticut approve recreational cannabis during the 2019 legislative session.
It’s not a far-fetched idea any longer. Connecticut came close last year.
In 2018, six bills related to legalizing and regulating recreational-use cannabis in Connecticut were introduced and four hearings were held on the issue. A bill that would begin planning for the legalization in Connecticut was sent to the House after narrowly passing the Appropriations Committee by a 27-24 vote.
A proponent of legalization, Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said the House Democratic caucus was 17 votes shy of passage earlier this year.
But that was before the recent election when Democrats held an 80-71 majority over Republicans. Following the last election, they currently hold a 92-59 majority over Republicans in the House.
Elliott believes they will be able to get it over the finish line this year. He thinks it will happen if the Progressive Caucus gets behind it.
Connecticut voters have supported the measure.
An October Sacred Heart University poll found that 71 percent of Connecticut residents “strongly support” or “somewhat support” legalizing and taxing marijuana, in the context of the state’s budget crisis.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated last year that Connecticut could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year if it legalizes marijuana in the same way it’s been done in Massachusetts or Colorado.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to clarify attribution.