New Project SAM Oregon Affiliate Can’t Explain Teen Marijuana Use Declines


There now exists here in Oregon an affiliate of Kevin Sabet’s Project SAM, the ironically-named Smart Approaches to Marijuana, where the “smart approach” is to maintain adult marijuana prohibition but soften the penalties a little bit. I like to call it the “Kinder Gentler Drug War” approach.

The head of this new prohibition group in a legalized marijuana state is named Randy Philbrick. I found myself arguing with him on Twitter, via his @PDXRandyLee and @SAM_Oregon handles. At one point, he states that “the fact still stands that teen use [of marijuana] is up in colorado since 2012.”

This is a rhetorical ploy prohibitionists play with stats that I like to call the Island Maneuver. It’s a type of cherry picking where they’ll find a terribly scary statistic and present it all alone with no context. I called him on it and that’s when he responded with “yeah yeah yeah, I know. You’re going too throw up your Stat sheet showing La being the highest among prohibition states.”

So I did. Here are the full data sets from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, comparing 2011-2012 state level data to 2012-2013.

NSDUH 2012-2013 Teen Monthly +Change

Indeed, there was an increase in the rate of monthly marijuana use among 12-17-year-olds in Colorado from 2011-2012 when 10.47% used monthly to 2012-2013 when 11.16% did, a relative increase of 6.59%. And in Washington, teen monthly marijuana use increased 3.81%. So, according to SAM Oregon, we have the smoking guns that show legalization of marijuana leads to greater teen use!

Except that Florida had a relative monthly increase of 6.97%. Last I checked, marijuana is so illegal in Florida that mere possession of 21 grams of it is a felony. And Utah had an increase of 4.49%. Last I checked, Utah was a highly religious state that frowns on drug use. Tennessee and Louisiana, also none too friendly to marijuana users, had increases in monthly teen marijuana use.

Ah, says the prohibitionist, but monthly use rates in Florida and Utah are 7.52% and 5.35%, respectively, while rates in Colorado and Washington are 11.16% and 9.81%, respectively. See, legalization makes more kids use marijuana! In fact, all of the top twenty states for monthly teen use are either legalized or medical marijuana states!

Except that Colorado and Washington and the medical marijuana states in the top twenty always had greater use of marijuana by teens, even before their laws changed. It’s not that marijuana reform makes marijuana popular; it’s that where marijuana is popular, marijuana reform has more support.

If the prohibitionists want to fixate on the top twenty states for teen monthly marijuana use, maybe they should try to explain why in 12 of them, monthly teen marijuana use declined, including double-digit declines in California, Alaska, and Massachusetts.

NSDUH 2012-2013 Top 20 Teen Monthly Use

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.