Despite Widespread Legalization, Fewer Young People Find it ‘Easy’ To Get Pot

Although the amount of youth reporting that cannabis is easy to access has declined, many continue to report the opposite.

The number of legal cannabis retailers has exploded in North America the last decade, but that hasn’t resulted in easier access for kids. 

That is the takeaway from newly published survey data that examined perceptions of cannabis among youth in Canada.

“Very little research has examined how perceptions of cannabis access among underage youth in Canada have changed since cannabis was legalized and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, this paper examines the effect of the early and ongoing stages of the COVID-19 pandemic period on youth perceptions of cannabis access over time since the onset of the Cannabis Act in 2018 in a large sample of Canadian youth,” the researchers wrote in the introduction of the study, which was published this month in Archives of Public Health.

The authors of the study said that they “used both repeat cross-sectional data [T1 (n = 38,890), T2 (n = 24,109), and T3 (n = 22,795)] to examine overall trends in perceptions of cannabis access, and sequential cohort longitudinal data [n = 4,677 students linked from T1 to T3] to examine the differential changes in perceptions of cannabis access among students over time.”

“In the cross-sectional sample, the frequency of students reporting that cannabis was easy to access decreased by 26.7% from T1 (51.0%) to T3 (37.4%), although respondents who have used cannabis were more likely to report access was easy. In the longitudinal sample, perceptions of cannabis access being easy increased over time, especially among cannabis users. Perceived ease of access appears to have been slightly impeded during the initial pandemic period but rebounded during the ongoing pandemic period,” they wrote in their summary of the results.

In conclusion, the researchers said that although “the prevalence of youth reporting that cannabis is easy to access has declined since legalization and throughout the early and ongoing pandemic periods, a substantial number of underage youth continue to report that cannabis is easy to access,” which they said suggests “that there is an ongoing need for continued cannabis control efforts to address this issue.”

“While there has been a growing number of studies focused on examining changes in cannabis use among Canadian youth since the onset of the Cannabis Act, and more recently since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there appears to be a paucity of research dedicated to examining changes in youth perceptions of cannabis availability over the same period of time. In response, this study provides unique and novel evidence of how youth perceptions of cannabis access have changed since the onset of the Cannabis Act,” they said in their conclusion, as quoted by NORML, “Our data suggest that in our large samples of youth, perceptions of cannabis access as being easy has declined in prevalence since legalization and through the early and ongoing pandemic response period.”

The Cannabis Act in 2018 made Canada just the second country to legalize marijuana, following Uruguay, which legalized pot in 2013.

In the United States, legalization is a phenomenon that exists on the state and local level, as cannabis remains prohibited under federal law. 

But in states where adult-use cannabis has been made legal, there has been a similar trend as the one identified in the Canadian study.

A study last year found that recreational cannabis laws were not associated with a change in perception among marijuana among youth.

In the study, which was published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the researchers “aimed to discover whether children in states with [recreational cannabis laws] had decreased perception of risk from cannabis compared with children in states with illicit cannabis,” noting that as “more states pass recreational cannabis laws (RCLs) for adults, there is concern that increasing (and state-sanctioned) cannabis acceptance will result in a reduced perception of risk of harm from cannabis among children.”

The researchers said they “analyzed data from the multisite multistate Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study to determine how the perception of cannabis harm among children changes over time in states with and without [recreational cannabis laws].” 

“Using multilevel modeling, we assessed survey responses from children longitudinally across 3 years, adjusting for state-, family-, and participant-level clustering and child-level factors, including demographics (sex, race, and socioeconomic status), religiosity, and trait impulsivity,” they said in their explanation of the methodology. 

The researchers said that there “was no significant main effect of state [recreational cannabis laws] on perceived risk of cannabis use, and no differences in change over time by state [recreational cannabis laws], even after controlling for demographic factors and other risk (e.g., impulsivity) and protective (e.g., religiosity) factors.” 

“This analysis indicates that state-level [recreational cannabis laws] are not associated with differential perception of cannabis risk among children, even after controlling for demographics, trait impulsivity, and religiosity,” they said. “Future studies could assess how perception of risk from cannabis changes as children and adolescents continue to mature in states with and without [recreational cannabis laws].”

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