Minneapolis, MN – February 25, 2019: Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR) Campaign Manager Leili Fatehi has issued the following statement in response to recent media statements by Boynton Health's director of public health and communications that 2018 student survey data linking marijuana use to lower GPA should prompt Minnesota legislators to hesitate about legalizing marijuana for recreational use:
As former research faculty at the University of Minnesota focusing on law, public policy, and health, I am extremely disappointed to see the spokesperson for Boynton Health cherry-picking data from their 2018 student survey in an attempt to turn marijuana legalization into a scapegoat for far more salient and persistent issues within the purview of state legislators that are impacting our students' academic performance .
Boynton has been quick to tout that its 2018 survey of Minnesota students reveals an association between regular marijuana use and lower GPA, but has omitted contextualizing the other associations to lower grades found in the survey—such as, excessive internet use, financial difficulties, mental health issues, stress, and sleeping difficulties—and how those associations compare and relate to that of marijuana use. Indeed, the Boynton study did not check cross-associations between marijuana use and other issues found to negatively impact students' grades despite the fact that students taking the survey reported those very same issues as being factors contributing to their use of marijuana in the first place, as seen in the following figures from the survey report:
Source: Boynton Health, 2018 College Student Health Survey Report.
In speaking with the media, representatives from Boynton have also failed to mention that there have been multiple published studies from states that have already legalized marijuana showing that, while marijuana use among college students did increase after legalization, it only did so among those students who also reported being heavy drinkers. Students who are moderate or non-drinkers did not report an increase in marijuana use. As such, when the spokesperson from Boynton said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio that the rate of students reporting having driven under the influence of marijuana was comparable to that of students reporting having driven while drunk, that’s because those are probably the very same students and will remain the very same students after legalization. Indeed, that is also why states that have legalized haven’t seen any increase in marijuana-related DUIs. Not only that, but multiple peer reviewed studies have also reported that the biggest decline in grades among college students who use marijuana is among those who were already heavy drinkers when they started also using marijuana. This means that it’s probably the same students whose heavy drinking is already impacting their grades who are seeing even lower grades when they start also using marijuana.
The fact that the Boynton survey shows that marijuana use is up among Minnesota college students is a prima facie demonstration of the failure of prohibition laws. Marijuana is illegal in Minnesota and, yet, a quarter of students are reporting using it regularly. However, it’s not just changing attitudes about marijuana among the students that is contributing to this rise in use—it’s also changing attitudes among the university administrators who have significantly scaled back the enforcement of anti-marijuana policies on campus. The reality is that virtually all colleges and universities in states with legalized marijuana have banned the use of marijuana on campus because of their concerns over losing their federal funding. Marijuana is already decriminalized in Minneapolis and the police in other cities and towns are no longer wasting resources going after kids with pot on college campuses. If the University of Minnesota and other colleges want to maintain a marijuana-free campus or decrease marijuana use among their students, they are going to have develop and implement campus-based education, enforcement, and interventions--and that is true regardless of whether marijuana is legalized or not in Minnesota.
The bottom line is that the Boynton Health survey really shows that if Minnesotans are worried marijuana use and the academic success of our college students, we'd be best advised to encourage the state legislature to find solutions to the crushing student loan debt, housing and food insecurity, and lack of mental health services that are debilitating our students' ability to perform in the classroom.