A common concern over the passing of cannabis legislation is that it could encourage use by teenagers, but researchers at Columbia University have found that medical marijuana laws do not cause an increase in underage cannabis use.
With several states considering medical and recreational cannabis legislation in 2016, the potential effects legalization on underage cannabis use is a major consideration for many voters. Medical marijuana opponents argue that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes conveys a message to young people of acceptability or minimizes the potential harms that can come with abuse.
However, nearly all studies examining the effects of cannabis legalization have shown “no increase or even a decrease in youth marijuana use after the passage of medical marijuana laws, including a brand new study published in the March 2016 issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy. This study by Melanie M. Wall and a team of Columbia University researchers was designed to examine the surprising findings of a 2015 study by Lisa Stolzenberg and her Florida International University colleagues. Stolzenberg’s study, using data from the US National Survey on Drug Use in Households, concluded that the “implementation of medical cannabis laws increase juvenile cannabis use.” The findings were published in an earlier issue of International Journal of Drug Policy.
Motivated to examine the reasons for Stolzenberg’s discrepant findings, Wall and her team replicated the methods used in the Stolzenberg study. They concluded that while underage use is higher in states with medical marijuana legislation, evidence shows that it’s not the passing of the laws that’s to blame. “We provided a replication of the Stolzenberg et al. results and demonstrate how the comparison they are making is actually driven by differences between states with and without medical marijuana laws rather than being driven by pre and post-medical marijuana law changes within states,” Hall wrote in the study, published in the March 2016 issue of International Journal of Drug Policy. When the data was analyzed based on pre and post-medical marijuana laws, “there [was] no evidence of a differential increase in past-month marijuana use in youth that [could] be attributed to state medical marijuana laws.”
Concerns over Medical Marijuana Boosting Teen Cannabis Use Baseless
The findings from Hall and her team aren’t surprising. They echo previous studies that have also found no correlation between the passing of medical marijuana laws and an increase in adolescent marijuana use.
The latest comes from a June 2015 study published in Lancet Psychiatry, which concluded that, “Our comprehensive study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent use of marijuana in the year of passage of a medical marijuana law, or in the first or second years after passage.”
Since 1996, 23 states and Washington D.C. have established medical marijuana legislation. Legislation is expected to expand throughout the U.S. in 2016 with active campaign efforts in several states looking to be bring initiatives to voters in November. As legal cannabis continues to spread, efforts to understand its impact on America’s youth will remain in the forefront of U.S. politics.
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