Two recent studies examining the effect marijuana legislation has on teenagers have concluded that the laws neither affect the attitudes of teens regarding marijuana nor cause an increase in teen drug problems. In fact, despite the recent legislative changes legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana throughout the U.S., use among teens is declining.
The findings of two recent studies may help calm the concern over potential adverse effects that marijuana legislation has on teenagers. According to the studies, marijuana laws don’t appear to have an impact on teens’ attitudes toward marijuana or their risk of developing drug problems.
Published in the American Journal of Public Health, a study conducted by Lisa Schmidt and a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, concluded that medical marijuana laws have no direct impact on the views of young people. Using 10 years of data from the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the researchers found no evidence linking legalization and a change of attitude toward marijuana. While there was evidence showing greater acceptance among teens in states with medical marijuana laws, this association became non-statistically significant after adjusting for state-level differences.
Schmidt and her team examined responses from over 450,000 teens aged 12 to 25 between the years of 2004 and 2013. Each was measured for attitude on marijuana riskiness, social acceptability, and accessibility.
The study did conclude that teenagers are overall more accepting of marijuana. “This raises the possibility that the progressive liberalization of marijuana control policies at the state level has culminated in a national debate that is influencing all young Americans regardless of the states they dwell in,” the researchers wrote via Forbes. “Our analysis also suggests that more permissive attitudes may be drivers in the liberalization of state marijuana control policies.”
Despite a seemingly greater acceptance among teenagers, adolescents are using marijuana less than before. Another study found that teen marijuana use dropped 10 percent between 2002 and 2013. Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found that the number of adolescents with problems related to marijuana, including drug dependency and associated school or relationship problems, declined by 24 percent during that same time span.
A little over 16 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year in 2002. In 2013, the number of recent marijuana users dropped to below 14 percent. Additionally, teenagers with marijuana-related dependency or behavioral problems declined from 4 percent in 2002 to 3 percent in 2013.
As in the aforementioned study, data was gathered from the NSDUH. Surveys from more than 216,000 American adolescents ages 12 to 17 over a 12-year span were examined.
Lead author Richard A. Grucza, PhD, and his team determined that the reduction in marijuana use and marijuana-related problems were accompanied by reductions in behavioral issues. There were fewer teens getting into trouble for serious behavioral issues like shoplifting, selling drugs, bringing weapons to schools or getting into physical altercations.
“We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse,” Dr. Grucza said. “We don’t know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization.”
Previous examinations into marijuana legislative effects on teens have also had positive conclusions. A study from earlier this month found that teens in Washington, a state that legalized adult use marijuana in 2012, have not found marijuana easier to come by since marijuana was legalized. Additionally, a study analyzing teen use pre and post-medical marijuana law changes found “no evidence” that the passing of state medical marijuana laws led to an increase in marijuana use by youth.
As of now, four states and Washington D.C. have legalized adult use marijuana and 24 states have passed medical marijuana legislation. The future of marijuana use by teenagers remains a concern as many more states are considering legalization or decriminalization measures. The recent investigations showing that marijuana laws don’t directly affect the views of young people and that marijuana use among teens is down despite these recent legislative changes suggest positive outcomes. So far evidence suggests that legalization of recreational and medical cannabis is not conveying a message about marijuana acceptability or having an adverse effect on the rate of teenage use.