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SANDAG Report Finds Marijuana Use in Juvenile Population Continues Regional Rise

Study Shows More Than Half Tried Marijuana Before Alcohol & Tobacco

San Diego County CA— Marijuana remains the drug of choice for youths in the juvenile justice system according to a report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division on Friday, but new data show changes over time in frequency of use and perception of how harmful it can be.

The SANDAG report, CJ Bulletin: 2017 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region found that marijuana was the first substance ever tried among the more than half of the juveniles surveyed, before alcohol and tobacco. Other findings included:

  • 91% of the youth surveyed had tried marijuana and the average age of first use was 12.4.
  • Those who reported using marijuana in the past month had used it an average of 16.5 of the past 30 days.
  • 45% surveyed were positive for marijuana at the time of interview
  • 56% reported marijuana was the first substance they ever tried, compared to 25% for alcohol
  • 14% said they believed that marijuana could be harmful to users, compared to 36% for alcohol and 59% for tobacco

“Efforts to prevent youth substance abuse are more important than ever given the changes in state law decriminalizing marijuana use combined with the higher concentration of THC levels in marijuana, and new products such as marijuana edibles. All this makes it easier to abuse the drug,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Dr. Cynthia Burke. “It is telling that many of the minors interviewed expressed that they believed marijuana was not bad for users and considered marijuana less harmful and more easily available than alcohol and tobacco.”

The study also found that in 2017, more youth reported ever trying meth and using prescription drugs illegally. These and other statistics regarding youth substance use and other risk behaviors is compiled annually through the Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) Program. These reports are the first in a series of publications with 2017 data with reports derived from adult interviews to follow.

The Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) program focuses on individuals who are arrested and booked into local detention facilities. Subjects are interviewed within 48 hours of their arrest and asked in an anonymous and confidential interview about their substance use history and other risky behaviors.

A summary of data over the past 10 years (2007-2017) is available in CJ Bulletin: 2017 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.


The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is the San Diego region’s primary public planning, transportation, and research agency, providing the public forum for regional policy decisions about growth, transportation planning and construction, environmental management, housing, open space, energy, public safety, and binational topics. SANDAG is governed by a Board of Directors composed of mayors, council members, and supervisors from each of the region’s 18 cities and the county government.

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