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SANDAG Report Finds Marijuana Use is at a 19-Year High Among Juveniles

July 30, 2019 - Marijuana use in the San Diego region is at its highest rate since 2000 and remains the drug of choice for youth in the juvenile justice system, according to a report released by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division on Monday.

The SANDAG report, CJ Bulletin: 2018 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region, found that only 11% of youth perceive marijuana use as harmful compared to other gateway substances such alcohol and tobacco.

Other findings include:

- 58% of juveniles interviewed tested positive for at least one substance
- More than two thirds of youth reported having tried all three “gateway” substances (alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana), and the average age of first-time use was around age 12
- 57% admitted to abusing prescription or over-the-counter drugs

Of the youth who abused prescription or over-the-counter drugs, 86% reported taking painkillers such as Codeine or Percocet and 83% used tranquilizers

The SANDAG report also saw a decline in the use of the drug spice.

“Fewer youth reported using spice as an alternative to marijuana and none surveyed used it to avoid a positive drug test,” said SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Director Dr. Cynthia Burke.

“Efforts to address the spike in spice use appear to have been effective. In 2018, only 14% said they have ever tried the drug. That’s down from a high of 48% in 2015.”

Data also shows several common risk factors among the youth interviewed: 

- 82% had a history of truancy
- 60% of youths’ parents had contact with the justice system
- 54% have a history of running away from home
- 34% have had previous family contact with Child Protective Services
- 17% are not living with either parent
- 17% have had thoughts about committing suicide

These statistics and others regarding youth substance use and other risk behaviors are compiled annually through the Substance Abuse Monitoring (SAM) Program. The 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 two-page summary on how data have changed with an evolving justice system (since 2007) is available in the most recent SANDAG CJ Flash.

View the complete CJ Bulletin: 2018 Juvenile Arrestee Drug Use in the San Diego Region.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or