CONCORD — Nearly 10 percent of 12 to 17 year olds in New Hampshire regularly use marijuana while more than one in four 18 to 25 years olds report using it at least once in the past month, the fifth highest rate in the nation, according to a national survey.
"This is a disturbing finding," said Joe Harding, director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, of the youth statistics. "It is an alarming rate and well above the U.S. average of 7.6 percent of 12 to 17 year olds nationally reporting regular marijuana use. This underscores the need for us to collaborate with not only our partners in the field, but also businesses, law enforcement, the medical field and schools to implement proven strategies to prevent youth use of marijuana."
About one in 10 adolescents or 9.6 percent reported regular marijuana use, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). More than one in four 18 to 25 year olds in the state — 26 percent — report using marijuana at lease once in the prior month, the NSDUH reports. Other states in the top ten for young adult marijuana use include other northern New England states as well as Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational use of the drug.
The findings come as the state Legislature debates a bill to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. The bill got initial approval Wednesday when the House voted 170-162 to send it to the Ways and Means for review of its proposed 15 percent sales tax on marijuana sales through a licensed retailer.
The committee will send it back to the House for another vote. If approved, it will go the Senate, where passage is uncertain. Gov. Maggie Hassan promised to veto it if it comes to her desk. The governor came under pressure this week from advocates of marijuana legalization to change her stance.
Colorado and Washington are the only two states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
"Young people hear about our state debating this issue and may think that marijuana is safe," said Shannon Bresaw, director of the Capital Area Regional Public Health Network. "Research shows when people don't perceive an action as risky they are more likely to engage in that risky behavior."
DHHS on Friday issued "Marijuana Use in New Hampshire," the fourth in a series of issue briefs highlighting rates and trends in substance misuse among children and adults. The brief provides strategies and resources for communities and the public to learn about the risks and dangers of early use. To read the brief, visit www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcbcs/bdas/, www.drugfreenh.org and www.nhcenterforexcellence.org .