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  • American Cannabis Report Editorial Staff

Want Teens To Smoke Less Pot? Legalize It, say PhDs

Last year we made a wager with a high school freshman: Let's have a race to see who can buy some weed faster.

He immediately responded, "Save your money Dad, I'd win."

"Is that so?" we said, arching a brow.

"Sure. I walk across the street to school, I know where the guys hang out, and I'll be back in 10 minutes."

We used to think, at the parenting/community level, that this little demonstration captures the legalization argument in a nutshell. "Kids can get stuff whenever they want, just like we did when we were younger, so anyone who says "We want to protect the children from marijuana" as an argument against cannabis legalization/regulation is smoking their own stash."

Only if you legalize and regulate can you keep it out of their sweaty teen hands!

(A smug argument and ignores the simple premise, "They're gonna get it if they want it... um, how can we make them not want weed?)

Turns out, legalization has the same effect on psychological demand: if the parents are doing it, the kids won't want to. Because you know, parents are so uncool.

The real answer can be found in evolutionary biology, says Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., a professor of molecular biology at John Jay College, of the City University of New York:

"Although evolutionary biology may seem like a strange field to look for guidance on drug policy, the phenomenon known to biologists as “costly signaling” explains why stigmatization is altogether ineffective at reducing drug use among teenagers."

Simple, right? Try this: "In many species, including humans, individuals engage in various behaviors meant to signal to others that they are healthy and strong, a desirable mate and a formidable rival.... these costly signals can take many forms, but among them are behaviors that are seen as risky, dangerous, unhealthy, and even foolhardy."

Such as scoring weed near the bike racks.

"Most drug deterrence initiatives repeat the refrain that drugs are harmful and taboo. But this is precisely what makes them so attractive to teenagers, especially teenage boys. In their minds, it frames drug use as an opportunity to show off to others and advertise fitness. The greater the stigma against marijuana, the more valuable the costly signaling is for teenagers who dare to buck the taboo." (emphasis added)

Dr. Lents theory is borne out or at least supported by a recent study, in which researchers analyzed information from 11 previous studies that looked at teen marijuana use from 1991 to 2014., led by senior study author Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. "There appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens' use of the drug."

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