Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Mean Easier Access For Teens, Study Finds

A new study has found that teens in Washington have not found marijuana easier to come by since the state legalized adult use cannabis in 2012.

The legalization of adult use marijuana in Washington has not made it easier for teens to access cannabis, a new study shows. Using data from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, researchers concluded that there was no change in the proportion of teens that believe it “easy” to access marijuana from before and after the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

Fifty-four percent of teens responded it was “easy” to access marijuana in 2014, compared to 55 percent in 2010.

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington after voters passed Initiative 502 in 2012. Under the law, adults over 21 can legally possess up to 1 oz. of marijuana, 16 oz. of solid marijuana-infused products, and 72 oz. of liquid marijuana-infused products. Consumption must be done in private.

The study’s findings help to quell concerns that the growing legal cannabis industry conveys a message to young people of acceptance and will encourage teen use. The results may also be encouraging to lawmakers and voters outside of Washington, as several states are expected to consider legalizing recreational marijuana or expanding medical marijuana programs this year.

“It is both surprising and reassuring that teens didn’t perceive that marijuana was easier to access after it was legalized for recreational use by adults,” said Andrew Adesman, MD, FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and senior investigator in the study.

The study’s lead investigator Natalie Colaneri presented the abstract of the study, “Adolescents’ Ease of Access to Marijuana Before and After Legalization of Marijuana in Washington State,” at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting in Baltimore on Sunday, May 1.

Colaneri’s findings align with a March 2016 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, which analyzed teen use pre and post-medical marijuana law changes and found that “there is no evidence of a differential increase in past-month marijuana use in youth that can be attributed to state medical marijuana laws.” Another study published in 2015 by Lancet Psychiatry also found zero correlation between the passing of cannabis laws and an increase in adolescent marijuana use.