A Columbia University study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry has found that medical cannabis laws have not increased cannabis consumption in adolescents—one of the major bugaboos that opponents of legalization in its various forms have used against even medical marijuana laws.
Using data from a national, annual survey called Monitoring the Future, researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York say that enactment of a medical cannabis law does not increase adolescent cannabis consumption.
The study is based on interviews with more than 1 million adolescents over a 14-year period in states with medical marijuana laws.
The main finding: Between the years 1991 and 2014 cannabis smoking decreased in 8th graders, while remaining steady in 10th and 12th graders.
An interesting sidelight: Adolescent cannabis consumption in states with medical marijuana laws was higher than the national average before the laws’ enactment. The fact that consumption was higher in these states led some to blame the medical laws, but this research suggests that the laws have nothing to do with increased adolescent cannabis consumption.
The psychiatric researchers who conducted the study tried to explain the interesting shifts in consumption after enactment of medical laws. The decrease in consumption in 8th graders they attribute to these children now perceiving cannabis as a medical substance and not a recreational one, leading to less of a desire to smoke it. This was not the case with 10th and 12th graders, who may have already had a solidified opinion about the plant and were not susceptible to this shift in mentality.
Why did states with medical cannabis laws already have higher-than-average adolescent cannabis consumption? Though it makes sense superficially, it’s hard to tell exactly. Perhaps an overall increased availability in a state like California (the first state to enact a law and coincidentally the state that grows the most of it and other crops) along with a more liberal attitude generally could have led to an overall increase in consumption among all age groups. This overall increase in consumption may have made more voters aware of its medical benefits, hence leading to a quicker passage of a medical cannabis bill.
This little piece of monumental research holds important implications for policy makers and politicians when it comes to passing a medical cannabis law. Pro-cannabis activists now have solid ground to stand on when it comes to refuting those who say medical marijuana laws are harmful to children.