New state marijuana survey sheds light on adult use and raises questions regarding youth exposure
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment released its first survey on adult marijuana use since the passage of Amendment 64, finding that 13.6 percent of Colorado adults ages 18 and older have used marijuana in the past 30 days.
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or BRFSS, reported data on usage by region, race, education completed, sexual orientation, income and age of first use.
Regional usage spanned from 18.5 percent in Region 20 (Denver County) to 1.4 percent in Region 5 (Cheyenne, Lincoln, Elbert and Kit Carson counties). Adult usage in Region 11 (Routt, Moffat, Jackson, and Rio Blanco counties) was below the state average at 11 percent.
In comparing the BRFSS results with that of the National Survey of Drug Use and Health’s, or NSDUH, in 2013, the department found no significant changes in usage, with adult use increasing only 0.7 percent since NSDUH’s report.
According to the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, this survey marks the start of data collection for long-term trend analysis in marijuana use.
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“Tracking this data over time will help us identify trends that will be useful in planning public health awareness campaigns about marijuana use,” Wolk said in the BRFSS news release.
A substantial part of such planning includes how officials can curb underage use of marijuana, particularly with the social taboo of the drug fading and its presence in households becoming more commonplace.
The BRFSS reported that of parents with children ages 1 to 14, 6.9 percent had marijuana in or around the home, 71.3 percent of them had it locked away and 3.9 percent of them had recently used it inside.
“It’s in large part accessibility, since kids can get it at home or from an older adult friend,” said Grand Futures Routt County Program Director Megan McCord. “It’s also that, as the social norm gets more positive towards pot, especially in Steamboat where we have an accepting, laid back vibe, kids will feel more like it’s not a big deal.”
The biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey conducted by the department found that high school students’ perception of marijuana use as a moderate or great risk to health decreased from 58 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2013. In Routt County, Grand Futures’ 2013 survey reported 61 percent of high school students felt this way.
To help address these findings, McCord has helped Grand Futures launch its MALT campaign to educate both students and adults on how to model good behavior, talk to kids about drug use, safely store marijuana at home and offer alternative activities.
The correlation between adult use, legalization and youth use is not all negative, though. According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Colorado youths’ current and all time use has steadily decreased since 2009 to a figure below the national average.
In 2009, 25 percent and 45 percent of Colorado high school students used in the past month and at some point in time, respectively. In 2013, those figures dropped to 20 percent and 37 percent.
Youth use in Routt County as compared to the rest of the state was consistent with the BRFSS results. In a 2013 poll by Grand Futures, only 16 percent of high school students had used marijuana in the past month.
Nationally, trends in usage inversely correlate to Colorado. In 2009, 20.8 percent and 36.8 percent of U.S. high school students used in the past month and at some point in time, respectively. In 2013, student usage jumped 2.6 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.
Proponents of legalization attribute this decreasing state averages to the strict, legal age limits. Attempts to contact marijuana legalization activist groups NORML Colorado and Sensible Colorado were made regarding this trend but were not successful.
In the following years, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment will continue to collect data on marijuana use by both adults and youth. As other states that have legalized marijuana begin conducting their own surveys, Colorado will also have other state averages to which it can compare its results.
For more information on the BRFSS survey, visit http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/news/marijuana_use_survey.
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