Pot Use Lower Among Illinois Teens Who Live Near Medical Dispensaries

The findings on teenage cannabis use come from researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

An Illinois teenager living in a zip code with a medical cannabis dispensary is less likely to have used pot, according to new research.

The findings, which come from researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, showed that “about 18.3% of the youths living in Illinois ZIP codes with medical dispensaries reported they used cannabis during the prior year compared with 22.4% of those who lived in ZIP codes without these businesses,” according to Illinois News Bureau, a news service at the university.

“Likewise, fewer students – 12% – with medical dispensaries in their ZIP codes reported they had used cannabis during the prior 30 days, compared with 15.6% of their peers who lived in other ZIP codes, the researchers found,” the Illinois News Bureau reported.

The findings were based on the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey, a “biennial assessment conducted by the Center for Prevention Research and Development” at the university that included a sample of 10,560 young people in the state. 

According to the news bureau, the “anonymous survey [asked] students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades at schools across Illinois about various health and social issues, including their alcohol, tobacco and drug use,” while the data “were collected between January and June 2018,” when there were 53 operational medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. The survey was conducted before Illinois legalized recreational cannabis, which launched in January of 2020.

“There’s good news, and there are still reasons to be cautious and continue monitoring things,” said Doug Smith, the director of the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the university who is also a professor of social work and an expert on substance use in teens and young adults. “The good news is that it looks like in Illinois there was no immediate impact on adolescent substance use rates after medical dispensaries came on. In fact, we found that across the whole sample, those who lived in a ZIP code with a dispensary were less likely to have used cannabis during the past 30 days or one year.” 

Smith admitted that the findings of the survey did not invite an obvious explanation.

“It’s a head-scratcher to be honest,” Smith said, as quoted by the news bureau. “The only reason I can think of is that in 2018 there were only 53 dispensaries in operation across the state of Illinois. It could be that the state was just not saturated enough with these facilities to see an effect at that time.

“However, we need to combat the hysteria that legalizing cannabis is going to have a wild and resounding impact on teens in terms of substance use rates and prevalence,” Smith added. “That’s simply not the case.”

The news bureau has more on the survey’s findings:

“The average age of the students surveyed was 15 years old. Most of the students in the sample were white (43%) or Latino (26%). Consistent with national data, cannabis usage significantly increased as Illinois students progressed from eighth to 12th grade, regardless of whether there was a dispensary in their ZIP code, the researchers found. Most of those surveyed – 47% – were from suburban Chicago, while 21% were from other cities, about 18% lived in rural areas and 14% resided in the city of Chicago. About 32% of the Chicago youths in the study lived in ZIP codes where medical cannabis dispensaries were operating compared with 3.5% of those living in rural areas. Cannabis usage was more prevalent in more populated areas, the data indicated. Overall, 29% of students living in the city of Chicago reported they had used cannabis, compared with 19% of those from the Chicago suburbs, 22% of students from other urban areas and 19% of rural students, according to the study.”

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