That's correct. No one on this committee would dare say that cannabis is completely without harms, to be clear, but the level of dependence on cannabis and the severity of that dependence is limited to about 9% of the population who use it on a regular basis, and the severity is much less than you would see in terms of dependence levels with tobacco, alcohol, or otherwise.
More and more research is starting to suggest not only that it is it not a gateway drug—it's been disproved over the last 20 years that it's a stepping-stone drug—but that for many it can be an exit drug to problematic substance use.
In some cases it's very conscious. We have doctors prescribing cannabis deliberately for the treatment of chronic pain to deliberately reduce the use of opioids by patients. In other cases, though, it's completely subconscious, like what we're seeing in Colorado right now, the only state in the U.S. where you didn't see an increase in beer consumption last year, because of legalization efforts. It happens, then, at the population level.
I want to clarify that in Colorado there is research suggesting that youth use has gone down. It's moderate—it's about 12%—but it has gone down. I also want to mention, because you mentioned increased use of cannabis by women, that we are actually seeing women and seniors as being the largest group right now coming into the medical cannabis program. That alone may account for the statistical bump we're seeing, in terms of women using cannabis as well.
As you suggested earlier, we might see upon legalization a 2% to 4% increase initially that will flatline once again and go back to regular use. What you'll typically see is that those who are using will continue to use, but right now the law is not dissuading a lot of use. That's one of the challenges when we talk about youth right now: the law is not controlling black market distribution to children.
Let me add one more thing. I'm a former high school teacher. I once asked a grade 11 class, “What drugs can you access in the next 24 hours?” They listed off LSD, they listed off mushrooms, and they certainly listed off cannabis. The two toughest drugs for them to access in a 24-hour period were alcohol and tobacco.
Now, I'm not so old that I don't recall ways that we circumvented even those regulations, but once you take cannabis out of the black market, once you take a drug out of the black market, put in age restrictions and ID, and take the power of the black market away from distributing that drug, you can really impact rates of use. I think, then, that we can expect those youth rates to actually go down, post-legalization, despite the fact that it may seem counterintuitive in many ways.