For the past four decades, the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have been conducting a study named Monitoring the Future, which collects and reviews annual changes in drug and alcohol use among American teenagers. Their latest study surveyed over 47,000 students in 8th, 10th & 12th grade, and the numbers regarding teen marijuana use have some people incredibly concerned.
The latest findings, a review of data collected in 2011, showed that teen alcohol use, on a continuous downward trend since the 1980s, has hit an all-time low. Only 40% of high school seniors surveyed admitted to drinking is the past 30 days, as compared to over 54% of 12th graders asked the same question back in 1991.
Harder drugs like coke, crack, uppers, downers, screamers and laughers have all been falling out of favor as well among U.S. teens. Hell, even the long-time teenage badge of coolness - the cigarette - has become pretty lame, dropping a full percentage point since 2010's survey, down to 11.8% of teens admitting to having fired one up in the past 30 days.
Teen alcohol use - down.
Teen drug use - down.
Teen tobacco use - down.
All good news, right?
Well, not if you feel that a cold beer with the boys is manly, but a fat joint between friends is a sin.
Some parents and watchdog groups are up in arms over the latest Monitoring the Future report, overlooking the positive downward trends outlined above, and instead focusing on the study's data on teen pot use.
According to the study, 1 out of every 15 high school seniors admitted to daily, or near-daily, weed smoking. That ratio has not been that high since 1981, but has been on a gradually gentle rise for at least the past four years.
In 2007, 31.7% of seniors polled admitted to smoking pot in the past year. That figure rose 5 points in 5 years to 36.4% of 12th graders fessing up to the same question in 2011.
The same study found that the number of teens admitting to driving after smoking weed has risen from 10% in 2007, to 12% in 2011. Cue the 'outrage' as concerned moms across America drown their worries in a box of wine.
Again lost in the hyperbole of pot prohibitionists is the study's discovery that cannabis use among 8th-graders has actually trended downward in recent years, despite the fact that at all levels surveyed, teens who see marijuana use as a "great risk" continues to drop.
That last part is important, as it provides a stark contrast to the age-old argument that marijuana is a "dangerous gateway drug".
When parents ignorantly compare weed to drugs like meth or heroin or cocaine, they give their children a false scale of equivalence with which to make informed decisions in the world. So if they do happen to try some pot, and they don't turn into a blood-thirsty junkie like their mother warned them, they may be more apt to branch out to the other drugs mama said were bad. That misinformation is the gateway.
Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator for the Monitoring the Future study seems to agree. He recently told the Associated Press, "One thing we've learned over the years is that when young people come to see a drug as dangerous, they're less likely to use it. That helps to explain why marijuana right now is rising, because the proportion of kids who see it as dangerous has been declining."
While no responsible adult should push recreational pot smoking on to teenagers, the kids are figuring out what their parents could not: You can like weed and still be a good person.