Study Finds No Evidence Cannabis Legalization Increases Cannabis Use By Teens

Researchers find that cannabis legalization does not increase teen pot smoking.
Study Finds No Evidence Cannabis Legalization Increases Cannabis Use By Teens
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The enactment of laws and policies that permit the recreational use of marijuana by adults does not lead to an increase in cannabis use by teenagers, according to results of a study published recently. In fact, the investigators who conducted the research determined that young people who use marijuana in states with laws legalizing adult-use cannabis actually do so less often. The study, “Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Adolescent Use of Marijuana, Tobacco, and Alcohol,” was published by the Journal of Adolescent Health last week.

To conduct the study, researchers associated with Boston University reviewed survey data that had been collected over a period of nearly two decades on the use of marijuana and other substances from a nationally representative sample of more than one million high school students. The researchers studied data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey data collected in 47 states from 1999 to 2017, which assessed marijuana, alcohol, cigarette, and e-cigarette use among adolescents.

An analysis of the data “found no evidence that RML [recreational marijuana legalization] was associated with [an] increased likelihood or level of marijuana use among adolescents,” the authors of the study wrote. “Rather, among adolescents who reported any use of marijuana in the past month, the frequency of use declined by 16 percent after RML.”

In their statement of purpose, the researchers noted that the growing number of states that are enacting adult-use cannabis legislation makes it necessary to determine the trend’s impact on public health, particularly among young people.

“Given the rapid expansion of recreational marijuana legalization (RML) policies, it is essential to assess whether such policies are associated with shifts in the use of marijuana and other substances, particularly for adolescents, who are uniquely susceptible to negative repercussions of marijuana use,” they wrote.

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a statement from the group that the study illustrates that adult-use cannabis reforms can be enacted in a manner that does not increase teen use, contrary to the boilerplate rhetoric commonly employed by anti-legalization forces.

“These latest findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that legalization policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse,” said Armentano. “Furthermore, these findings stand in sharp contrast to the sensational claims often made by legalization opponents, claims that thus far have proven to be baseless.”

NORML noted that similar research published in 2019 by the journal JAMA Pediatrics determined that laws permitting medical marijuana also did not increase cannabis use by teens.

“Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth. Moreover, the estimates reported … showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes,” NORML noted in the release. “This latter result is consistent … with the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.”

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