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Medical marijuana states show no real increase in teen pot use

We live in a country where the legality of marijuana is rarely clear and is frequently changing. Although the drug remains illegal under federal law, marijuana and derivative drugs are legal for medical purposes in 23 states and the District of Columbia. As most readers know, Wisconsin is not on that list.

In states like Wisconsin, one of the common arguments against legalization is the fear that once an illicit drug becomes legal in any sense, the move will be interpreted as a de facto endorsement of drug use. And of course, this will lead to the downfall of America's youth.

While a doom-and-gloom scenario like this one is often repeated, it is untrue. According to a recently published study, marijuana use among teenagers has not increased significantly in states where the drug is legal for medical purposes. And teen marijuana use in medical-marijuana states is only slightly higher than in states where pot remains completely illegal.

The study was based on data from the "Monitoring the Future study," and includes survey responses from over a million teens age 13-18 in 400 schools around the country. The 2014 data revealed that in medical marijuana states, about 16 percent of teenagers were using marijuana (compared to 13 percent in non-medical-marijuana states). But when comparing rates of use in states before and after legalization, researchers found that there was no statistically significant difference in teen marijuana use associated with legalization.

From a public health perspective, many argue that legalizing marijuana is important because the drug is relatively safe and has legitimate medicinal uses. And because pot is the most widely used illicit drug in the nation, it seems likely that legalization would not dramatically increase rates of use. Most people who would smoke marijuana are already doing so.

From a criminal justice perspective, legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) marijuana is just as important. Too many lives have been ruined by aggressive prosecution of drug crimes followed by disproportionately long prison sentences.

Until or unless marijuana is legalized here in Wisconsin, anyone who uses the drug (for any purpose) has reason to be concerned. If you are facing drug charges, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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