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Study Indicates Decriminalization Doesn’t Cause People to Start Using Marijuana Earlier

The decriminalization of marijuana in the Czech Republic has made no effect on the age of onset of marijuana use, according to a new study.

Opponents to loosening cannabis laws commonly rely on the argument that doing so conveys a message of acceptability of use to adolescents, but findings in a new study suggest those assumptions are false. According to the study, e-published ahead of print in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the Czech Republic decriminalizing marijuana in 2010 has made no effect on the age of onset of marijuana use.

Researchers from the Czech Republic’s National Institute of Mental Health used 2012 survey data and a mixed proportional hazards framework to investigate whether the change in cannabis policy had an effect on when residents used cannabis for the first time. After the data was examined, it was found that the cannabis policy change “did not affect the transition to first cannabis use.”

“We find no evidence of cannabis decriminalization affecting the age of onset of cannabis use,” the study concludes.

Similar studies analyzing cannabis use by young people in the United States have also found there to be no correlation between looser cannabis policies and an increase in the prevalence of marijuana use in teens and young adults. In fact, as more states pass laws legalizing recreational use, use among teens has shown to be declining.

The Czech Republic study, which started as a published discussion paper, speculated but wasn’t able to determine why decriminalization didn’t make an impact on the age of onset of cannabis use.

“All in all, the lack of evidence of an effect of cannabis decriminalization on the age of onset of cannabis is a fortunate finding for those who worry about negative health effects related to early onset of cannabis use,” the study reads.

DEA marijuana illegal

The Czech Republic is the only Eastern European country so far to reduce punishments for marijuana possession. Possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use is not a criminal offense, but rather subject to a monetary fine of up to 15,000 Czech koruna (approximately $612). The country also legalized marijuana for medical use in 2013.

In the U.S., over 20 states have passed laws decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana possession. Eight states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington – and Washington D.C. have legalized the use and possession of cannabis for adults aged 21 and older. Lawmakers in Vermont, which already decriminalized marijuana possession, recently passed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis and the governor is currently considering the measure.

Multiple polls published over the past month have shown support for legalizing marijuana among Americans to be at an all-time high and industry analysts have even projected that marijuana could be legal in all 50 states within the next four years.

You can access the entire study, “Cannabis decriminalization and the age of onset of cannabis use,” via Science Direct.

Learn more about cannabis laws in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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