Washington: Legalized Marijuana Access Not Associated With Increased Teen Use

The use of marijuana by young people in Washington state has remained largely unchanged over the past decade despite the passage of laws permitting cannabis for therapeutic and recreational purposes.

According to data compiled by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and published a few week ago, “[C]annabis use and access among students in 6th through 12th grades have changed little from 2002 through the most recent survey in 2014.”

The findings rebut prohibitionists’ claims that changes in pot’s legal status will lead to increased consumption by young people.

Washington voters approved language permitting qualified patients to possess and consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes in 1998. In 2008, state lawmakers clarified the law by adopting some of the most lenient patient limits in the country, permitting them to possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis and home cultivate up to 15 plants. In 2012, voters approved I-502, which regulates the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to anyone over the age of 21. Retail sales of cannabis began on July 1, 2014.

Throughout this period, self-reported youth use of cannabis remained static among virtually all of the age groups surveyed (6th graders, 8th graders, 10th graders, 12th graders) – with those in the older cohorts reporting slight, overall declines in lifetime use since 2002. Similarly, the percentage of youth reporting “cannabis is hard to get” also remained largely unchanged.

Specifically, the passage of I-502 in 2012 appears to have had no negative effect on teen exposure. Both lifetime use of cannabis as well as pot use within the past 30 days fell among 8th graders following legalization, while use trends for those of other ages remains unchanged. Eight graders also report that cannabis has become more difficult to obtain since the passage of I-502.

By contrast, more adults report consuming cannabis since it became legal, with self-reported use climbing 17 percent between 2012 and 2014.

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