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Teens are obtaining pot from medical-marijuana cardholders, according to a biennial study by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. About one out of every nine students who said they used the drug within the past 30 days said he or she got it from a cardholder, the 2012 Arizona Youth Survey says.
The study says 11.6 percent of students in Grades 8,10 and 12 said they got the drug from patients or caregivers who are legally allowed to use marijuana under the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Voluntary surveys are handed out at schools around the state.
It is illegal for anyone who is not a participant in the state's medical-marijuana program to obtain and use the drug. It is also illegal for medical-marijuana cardholders to share their supply with those who are not in the program.
Law-enforcement and drug-free organizations have opposed the state's medical-marijuana program, partly because of concern that youths could have easier access to the drug.
The overwhelming majority of surveyed students reported that they obtained marijuana from friends, at parties, from family, at school, at home or other places.
Overall marijuana use remained mostly steady in 2012 at nearly 29 percent, up from more than 27 percent in 2008 but down from nearly 30 percent in 2010.
Voters in 2010 passed the medical-marijuana measure to allow people with certain debilitating medical conditions, including chronic pain, cancer and muscle spasms, to use marijuana.
They must obtain a recommendation from a physician and register with the Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the program and issues identification cards to qualified patients and caregivers.
Patients are limited to purchasing 2Yi ounces every two weeks. More than 33,000 people have permission to use medical marijuana in Arizona.
Laura Oxley, spokeswoman for the ADHS, said health officials "knew there would be people abusing the system," even though the program was designed to be strictly medical. She pointed out that officials can revoke the cards of those who are caught violating program rules.
The practice is also occurring in Colorado, according to an August story by the Denver Post. The article cited a University of Colorado School of Medicine study that found nearly three-quarters of teens in two substance-abuse-treatment programs said they used medical marijuana bought or grown for another person.
Carolyn Short, chairwoman of Keep AZ Drug Free, said the survey's findings are unsurprising. The organization opposed the medical-marijuana initiative.
"I would expect the numbers would increase more and more and more," Short said. "Many voters really did buy the compassion argument with this (Arizona's medical-marijuana law), but it's bogus it's a hoax."
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who have opposed the state's medical-marijuana program because it conflicts with federal law, also were not surprised by the study.
"The AMMA allows the cardholder a ridiculous amount of marijuana to use as 'medicine' 2.5 ounces every two weeks is roughly 70 to 120 joints. That means an excessive amount of marijuana lying around and waiting to be 'shared,'" Polk wrote in a statement to The Arizona Republic. "Just like alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes, which teens use at a higher rate because it is accessible, marijuana is now accessible in homes via cardholders. Anecdotally, we hear of kids who are getting marijuana from their parents' closets or their friend's parents' closet and bringing it to school to share."
Montgomery characterized the medical-marijuana program as "recreational."
"These results are likely to lead to what we've seen in other states that have tried to implement similar marijuana-availability programs where the incidence of teen use of marijuana is higher than in states that do not have marijuana programs," he wrote in a prepared statement.