A new study shows marijuana legalization doesnt lead to youth consumption

Study Finds Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Lead to Increased Youth Use

It’s been a standard argument in every state where marijuana has been legalized: It will cause more youth to use it. And once again, another study shoots down that argument, finding the overall impact on underaged use is “statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

In fact, it appears that establishing certain regulated cannabis models actually leads to lower marijuana use among adolescents under certain measures — a finding that directly conflicts with all those anti-legalization arguments prohibitionists continue to make.

The analysis, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey data from 1993-2019 in 10 medical or adult-use states and builds on existing studies on the impact of marijuana reform on youth consumption that have reached similar conclusions.

Researchers found the adoption of recreational marijuana legalization (RML) “was not associated with current marijuana use or frequent marijuana use.” Further, they concluded “medical marijuana law (MML) adoption was associated with a 6% decrease in the odds of current marijuana use and a 7% decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use.”

The study also found that youth marijuana consumption decreased in states where recreational legalization had been in place for two years or more. “Consistent with estimates from prior studies, there was little evidence that RMLs or MMLs encourage youth marijuana use,” the researchers said. “As more post-legalization data become available, researchers will be able to draw firmer conclusions about the relationship between RMLs and adolescent marijuana use.”

The authors didn’t attempt to explain why youth don’t seem to be using marijuana more frequently in states that have legalized it, but it’s a trend that doesn’t surprise advocates, who have long argued that permitting sales in a regulated environment would detract from the illicit market and minimize youth access.

This study provides additional evidence that legalizing and regulating cannabis does not result in increased rates of use among teens,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “In fact, it suggests that cannabis legalization laws might be decreasing teen use.

Schweich added that it makes sense because legal cannabis businesses are required to check the IDs of their customers. “The unregulated market, which prohibitionists are effectively trying to sustain, lacks such protections,” he said.

Perhaps the most telling admission came from National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, who conceded in a recent interview that legalization has not led to increased youth use despite her prior fears.

Volkow admitted on Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann’s podcast that she was expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents to go up when states moved to legalize cannabis, but admitted that “overall, it hasn’t,” and that reform advocates like Nadelmann were “right” about the impact of the policy change on youth.

Lots of other studies have shown no increase in teen use in legalized states. A federally funded Monitoring the Future report released late last year found that cannabis consumption among adolescents “did not significantly change in any of the three grades for lifetime use, past 12-month use, past 30-day use, and daily use from 2019-2020.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics analyzed youth surveys of high school students from 2009 to 2019 and concluded that there’s been “no measurable difference” in the percentage of those in grades 9-12 who reported marijuana consumption at least once in the past 30 days. 

Another study released by Colorado officials showed that youth cannabis consumption in Denver “has not significantly changed since legalization” in 2012, though methods of consumption are diversifying.

This piece is a part of a content-sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

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