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SANDAG Report Measures Marijuana Use By Minors In Juvenile Hall

Photo by Katie Schoolov

An eighth of an ounce of marijuana is held in the palm of a hand, Nov. 6, 2015.

More than half of 123 minors interviewed at Juvenile Hall used marijuana as their first illegal substance and consider it to be less harmful than other drugs, according to a report issued by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Of the juvenile arrestees who took part in the survey, 56 percent said marijuana was the first drug they took, up from 34 percent in 2007. On the other hand, SANDAG data showed that youths' first-time use of alcohol as a "gateway" substance fell from 39 percent in 2007 to 26 percent last year.

Only 18 percent of respondents said marijuana would be extremely or very bad for the user, compared to 41 percent for alcohol, and 69 percent for tobacco.

"What we are learning from our research is that there is a growing acceptance of marijuana among young people," SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Cynthia Burke said. "In large part, that's because they perceive marijuana as a low-risk drug."

Among other findings:

— the average age of first use of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco was 12.

— 93 percent said marijuana was easy or very easy to obtain.

— 57 percent tested positive for an illegal substance, the highest figure since 2000.

— 48 percent had tried the designer drug spice, mostly as an alternative to marijuana but some to avoid a drug test.

According to SANDAG, the average age of the survey respondents was 15.8 years, with a range of 12 to 19. Just over half were Hispanic, with nearly one-quarter black and 18 percent white.

Burke cautioned that the results might be skewed because of recent lower arrest rates and an emphasis on finding alternatives to juvenile detention. That could mean those interviewed in Juvenile Hall had more issues and longer histories of problems than youth in prior years, she said.

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