In 2014, after Colorado legalized the recreational use of cannabis, we began hearing that teen use was declining – contrary to prohibitionist propaganda. Real-world data were beginning to prove that the black market, created through government prohibition, is a prime driver of negativities associated with drugs.

Another study performed by Washington University School of Medicine, published in May of this year, found that teen use of cannabis has significantly decreased as states legalize cannabis. This is good news, as the abuse of any psychoactive drug, even the relatively benign cannabis plant, can harm the developing adolescent brain. However, the controlled application of medical cannabis extracts such as CBD oil has profound benefits for debilitating conditions such as epilepsy.

Now, the government’s own research has confirmed that teen cannabis use has fallen dramatically since the legalization movement began picking up steam with the turn of the century. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analyzed data from 2002-2014 and found that access to cannabis among teens has dropped as the black market declines.

“In addition, despite increased perceptions of no risk from smoking marijuana, obtaining marijuana nationally remains more difficult for persons aged 12−17 years than for those aged ≥18, which could explain the lower prevalence of marijuana use and initiation in this age group. In fact, since 2002 the perceived availability (i.e., fairly easy or very easy to obtain marijuana) among persons aged 12–17 and 18–25 years has decreased.”

Perhaps removing the mystery of an “illicit” plant and bringing it into the open, where it should be, plays a part in decreasing the attraction. People have used cannabis for thousands of years, and only in the last century did the State suddenly deem this medicinal plant illegal – for reasons that have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with corruption and racism.

This idea that legalization and decriminalization decrease use is nothing new. While the idea of treating an addict with compassion instead of violence is a revolutionary notion in this country, this criminal ignorance doesn’t exist everywhere. In other countries, such as Portugal, its effects have been realized for more than a decade. In 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalized all drugs.

15 years later, drug use, crime, and overdoses have drastically declined in Portugal exposing the disturbing reality of prohibition.

The CDC study found another positive trend in its examination of cannabis use among the general population. While moderate use among adults is up since 2002, the abuse or dependence on cannabis has decreased with legalization.

“Although NSDUH data suggest increases in daily and almost daily use among adults (both in the overall population and among adult marijuana users), they also suggest steady decreases in the prevalence of marijuana dependence and abuse among adult marijuana users since 2002.”

Abuse or dependence is tricky to define when it comes to cannabis, considering that it provides medicinal properties for a range of physical and mental conditions. For example, those suffering from Crohn’s disease will find relief from smoking a joint just as they would ingesting a medical grade cannabis product. War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may find daily relief through cannabis use where prescription medications have failed.

This may be called dependence, but it is a dependence that prevents them from harming themselves or others. It is not the same as a dependence on alcohol, which does not have the medicinal benefits that cannabis brings through stimulating the endocannabinoid system.

Part of the explanation for the increase in “daily and almost daily use among adults” is most likely that more and more people are recognizing the medicinal benefits of cannabis. 25 states have now legalized some form of medical use.

Indeed, in states where medical cannabis is legalized, people are abandoning prescription pills in favor of the miraculous plant. Opioid abuse is also decreasing in states with legal weed.

The CDC study is of particular interest because the DEA just reaffirmed its prohibition of cannabis, maintaining the position that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” We know the first part is absurdly wrong, as proof of its medical value is indisputable, and now the government’s own study shows that the “potential for abuse” is higher under prohibition.

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Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.