HELENA — A new California study showing that teen use of marijuana has dropped since a medical marijuana law was adopted there in 1996 proves that the permissive laws don't foster youth pot use, Montana marijuana advocates said Friday.
The new study, released this week by the state of California, reports that the number of ninth-graders using marijuana dropped 45 percent over the last eight years. When California's medical marijuana law was passed in 1996, 34.2 percent of ninth-graders reported using marijuana within six months of the survey.
But this year, 18.8 percent of ninth-graders reported using the drug within six months of the survey.
‘‘What I think may be happening is young people start to see that marijuana is for sick people and it's not something that should be used lightly,'' said Paul Befumo, treasurer of the Montana Policy Project of Montana.
At the very least, Befumo said the study shows medical marijuana laws don't increase the rate of teen pot use.
Activists from the Marijuana Policy Project of Montana raised more than enough signatures — some 25,000 — to get their medical marijuana initiative placed on the general election ballot this November. Montanans will be asked to vote on Initiative 148, a proposed new law that would protect medical marijuana patients, their doctors and their caregivers from arrest and prosecution.
But critics of the proposed law have said that medical marijuana laws are the first step towards drug re-regulation, and called the initiative a ‘‘law enforcement nightmare.''
Roger Curtiss, an addiction counselor for Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties and opponent of the initiative, points to data recently released by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that shows children and teens are three times likelier to be in treatment for marijuana use than for alcohol use.
And they are six times likelier to be in treatment for marijuana use than for all other illegal drugs combined, he cited.
Curtiss also said marijuana is a so-called ‘‘gateway drug,'' which means people who use marijuana have less inhibitions about using other, more serious, drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.
Advocates of the proposed law, however, said the new California study buoys their causes.
‘‘In California, which has the oldest medical marijuana law on the books, teen use is actually dropping,'' Befumo said.
Bruce Mirkin, the director of the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington D.C. and parent organization to the Montana effort, said the new study will ‘‘put to rest the myth that medical marijuana laws send the wrong message to children.''
‘‘Frankly, it never made any sense that kids would think a drug is cool because cancer or AIDS patients use it to keep from vomiting,'' Mirkin said.