Proponents of marijuana legalization would like voters to think placing the drug into a “regulated and controlled” system, similar to alcohol and tobacco, would reduce the availability of marijuana for youth.
The legalizers like to point out that the majority of high school seniors say marijuana is “easy to get.” What they don’t want voters to know is how marijuana use compares to the already legal drugs alcohol and tobacco.
Here are the facts:
The legal sale of marijuana in Nevada is extremely unlikely as federal law prohibits the state from licensing and regulating the sales and distribution of marijuana. (See FAQ: Would passing the initiative take marijuana sales out of the hands of criminal drug dealers?)
Even if it were possible to sell marijuana in a “controlled and regulated” market, preventing kids from actually obtaining the drug could only be as successful as we are in keeping alcohol and tobacco from them.
Ninety-three percent of high school seniors say alcohol is “easy to get” and 85% say marijuana is “easy to get.” Despite the high availability of both drugs, more students use alcohol (and tobacco) which are illegal for them and in a “regulated and controlled” system, than use marijuana, which is illegal for all persons.
In Nevada, 74% of students have used alcohol, 52% have used cigarettes, and 40% have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
In 2005, 41% of Nevada students used alcohol at least once in 30 days compared to 17% of Nevada students who used marijuana at least once in 30 days. That means nearly half of all Nevada students use alcohol compared to four out of five students who do NOT use marijuana.
One in three Nevada students used alcohol before 13 years old compared to one in ten who used marijuana.
Regardless of age restrictions for the use and sales of alcohol and tobacco, large numbers of youth drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
There are nearly 11 million underage drinkers of alcohol nationwide. One study found that underage drinkers consume 1.1 billion cans of beer each year and account for drinking 35% of all wine coolers sold in the United States.
Almost 90% of adult tobacco smokers started at or before the age of 18 and today nearly 3 million kids under the age of 18 are current tobacco smokers.
Despite a “We Card” system for tobacco one in ten Nevada students under 18 who smoke cigarettes bought their cigarettes in a store. A recent national study found that 50% of students who purchased cigarettes in a store were NOT asked to show proof of age.
When it comes to teenagers smoking marijuana, Neil Levine, spokesperson for the group pushing to legalize the drug in Nevada, admits “kids are going to do what kids are going to do.” (Bill Manders Show, KKOH Talk Radio, July 26, 2006.) Teen use of alcohol and tobacco is a clear indication of what happens when drugs are more acceptable and available to adults.
Unfortunately, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes have long been seen as a “rite of passage” into adulthood. Do Nevada voters really want to tell our youth, “smoking pot is part of growing up?”