Medical Marijuana Enactment Associated With Small Reduction In Teen Use

A new study “shines light” on adolescent marijuana use in states where medical marijuana is legal.

The rate of youth marijuana consumption decreases after states legalize medical marijuana, according to a new report. The findings are contrary to lingering fears that legalizing cannabis encourages youth to use cannabis and makes it more accessible.

The study, published February in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, sought to uncover any shifts in adolescent marijuana use due to cannabis policy change.

Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley, a professor of psychology at Boston College who led the study, said in a press release that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws (MML).

“When we looked at particular subgroups of adolescents, this reduction became even more pronounced. For example 3.9 percent less Black and 2.7 percent less Hispanic youths now use marijuana in states with MML,” Coley said.

Researchers used self-reporting data from more than 800,000 high school students ages 14 and over. Fifty-one percent of the respondents were female, and the data collected was drawn from state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1999 to 2015.

Coley said the results of the study “shine a light” on the marijuana debate taking place in America.

“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful.” Coley said.

“However, we saw the opposite effect. We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use.”

In conclusion, the study reported neither legalization or prohibition greatly impacted heavy marijuana use or the frequency of use, thus suggesting that teens who are heavy users may be invulnerable to shifts in cannabis policies.

adolescents marijuana legalization

Impact of Adult Use Marijuana Legalization on Teens

As researchers continue to dig to uncover data on teens’ rates of cannabis use in medical marijuana states, other reports show similar results to Coley’s study in states with legalized recreational or adult-use.

A study using data from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey 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. According to another report, 54 percent of teens responded it was “easy” to access marijuana in 2014, compared to 55 percent in 2010 prior to legalization.

The 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.”

Data also shows no increase in teen marijuana use in Colorado since the state became one of the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. In California, where adult use marijuana sales became legal in 2018, fewer teens are using cannabis. 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.

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