Marijuana use in Colorado rises for adults, stays the same for kids

Hide Featured Image
Mark Salley, Communications Director | 303-692-2013 |
Marijuana use in Colorado remained stable for young people and increased slightly for adults, according to two recent surveys by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows one in five youth currently use marijuana. The biennial survey shows youth marijuana use has not changed since before legalization. In 2013, 20 percent of youth said they used marijuana and in 2017, 19 percent said they had. The national average for youth marijuana use was 20 percent in 2017.
The survey shows youth attitudes about marijuana haven’t changed much in the past few years. Both the 2015 and 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Surveys show about half of youth thought of marijuana as risky, felt it was easy to get underage and said it was wrong for youth to use underage. Surprisingly, youth think four of five of their peers use marijuana, even though only one in five actually do. This discrepancy between perception and reality opens the door for our youth public education campaigns showing it is the norm for youth not to use, thus helping remove perceived pressure youth may feel from peers.
Retail (adult-use) marijuana use is illegal in Colorado for those under age 21. Research shows underage marijuana use can impair developing brains and get in the way of young people achieving their goals.
Young people who have trusted adults in their lives are less likely to use marijuana. According to the survey, youth who know their parents think underage use is wrong are 72 percent less likely to use marijuana. Youth with caring teachers are 28 percent less likely to use, and those who feel they have an adult to go to for help with a problem were 30 percent less likely to use.
“Preventing young people from using marijuana is a statewide priority,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “While youth use hasn’t gone up, we are working hard to educate Colorado parents and their children about the health and legal risks of underage marijuana use.”
Adult marijuana use, which is legal in Colorado, increased from 13.6 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2017, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The survey shows the increase was driven by a significant rise in marijuana use among 18- to 34-year-olds. Current use during ages 26 to 34 increased from 19.4 percent in 2016 to 26.4 percent in 2017. Current use during ages 18 to 25 increased from 25.2 to 29.2 percent.
Some Colorado adults are using marijuana more often and in different ways. Adult daily or near daily use increased from 6.4 percent in 2016 to 7.6 percent in 2017. Of the adults who currently use marijuana, the majority smoke it but the number ingesting it by eating or drinking cannabis products increased from 35.2 percent in 2016 to 40.4 percent in 2017.
Though the number of adults using marijuana has increased, the number of those driving while using marijuana has not. According to the survey, only 3 percent of adults reported driving while high in 2016 and 2017.
“The marijuana market in Colorado is evolving,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, health department executive director and chief medical officer. “Our job is to make sure those who choose to use marijuana, use it safely, legally and responsibly.”
Since voters legalized marijuana in 2014, the health department has been charged with educating Coloradans about the safe, legal and responsible use of marijuana. Previous campaigns have successfully expanded knowledge of marijuana laws and health effects among adults and young people. Building on that success, the health department recently launched Responsibility Grows Here, four new campaigns in English and Spanish focusing on youth, trusted adults, marijuana users and new moms. Each campaign uses specific media and messages to reach each audience.
The youth campaign aims to prevent illegal underage use by showing young people how marijuana can impair their development and get in the way of achieving their dreams. The trusted adult campaign reaches out to parents, teachers and other role models with tips on how to start a conversation with kids about the legal and health effects of marijuana. For new moms, the health department is sending a message that there is no safe level of marijuana use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The campaign focusing on marijuana users aims to educate them about storing it safely, not using in public, not driving high and other responsibilities that come with using marijuana.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of middle and high schools throughout the state, conducted every two years, is supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Human Services, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus administers the survey.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System is a telephone survey of adults that collects statewide data about residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services.