The organization that funded Arizona's 2010 medical marijuana initiative says lawmakers who now want voters to scrap the program are missing the point of a study on teen use.
Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, acknowledged Friday that the report by the Criminal Justice Commission shows more than one out of every nine high school students who regularly use the drug said they got it from a legal medical marijuana user.
But Fox pointed out that overall teen marijuana use last year is lower than it was in 2010 when the initiative was approved. All that's changed, he said, is where the students are getting it.
In fact, Fox said, an argument could be made that every teen who gets it from a medical marijuana user -- the report does not say when it was given to them, sold or stolen -- may mean a teen who was not having to buy the drug from a dealer, someone who might be selling more dangerous drugs and is involved with organized crime.
The group is fighting back following publication of the latest ACJC study about teen use of everything from tobacco and alcohol to marijuana, prescription drugs and heroin.
One question specifically added this year, though, was asking teens where they got their marijuana, something not asked before.
The overwhelming majority of high schoolers who admitted to having smoked in the last 30 days said they got the drug from friends. But 11.6 percent said it came from someone who has a state-issued card allowing them to obtain and possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
"We definitely don't think that this abuse (of marijuana by teens) is something that should be laughed off or that it's not important,'' Fox said. "But it's certainly not important enough to rise to the level of denying qualified patients their ability to use this medicine.''
And Fox said it's wrong to link legalizing marijuana for medical use with teen abuse.
"Increased available of marijuana to qualified patients is not causing an increase in marijuana use, which is pretty much what everyone is alleging here,'' he said.
The latest ACJC report puts the number of teens using marijuana in the last 30 days at 14.3 percent. That compares with 14.8 percent in 2010, though it is higher than the 12.5 percent from the 2008 report.
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said none of that deters him from pushing his proposal, introduced earlier this week, to ask voters in 2014 to repeal the 2010 initiative.
Kavanagh said he was already questioning the program before the ACJC report, saying that the program is not what was sold to voters. He said only a small minority of the more than 33,000 who hold state-issued medical marijuana cards report suffering from cancer or glaucoma, with most saying they were suffering from "subjective back pain.''
What the report showed -- and added to his desire to repeal the program -- was that some of the marijuana earmarked for patients is being diverted to minors.
"Whether it's responsible for an increase or a decrease (in teen use) is totally irrelevant,'' Kavanagh said.
Fox, however, said that is precisely should be the focus for lawmakers when they consider repealing the medical marijuana initiative -- and, ultimately, voters if the Kavanagh proposal gets that far.
"Teens have always thought that marijuana was a lot easier to get than alcohol,'' he said.
"The fact that this substance is more widely available for qualified patients I'm not sure is really increasing the availability,'' Fox continued. "Teenagers are going to find marijuana, one way or the other.''
It was Fox's organization that put up close to $469,000 of the nearly $800,000 spent in 2010 to promote Proposition 203. Fox said, though, that no decision has been made whether the Marijuana Policy Project will get involved with any campaign to defeat a repeal measure if that gets on the 2014 ballot.
Marijuana use by Arizona high schoolers:
Year / Used ever / Used in last 30 days
2012 / 28.7% / 14.3%
2010 / 29.9% / 14.8%
2008 / 27.4% / 12.5%
2006 / 29.2% / 13.1%
2004 / 31.3% / 13.8%
2002 / 31.8% / 20.5%
-- Source: Arizona Criminal Justice Commission