Study: Legalization Does Not Impact Rates of Teen Marijuana Use

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Prohibitionists have long used teen and underage cannabis use as one of their primary arguments against medical marijuana laws and recreational marijuana legalization. While activists and those capable of critical thought are always quick to point out that teenagers can easily buy illegal drugs because prohibition removes any age restrictions, somehow that logic is generally ignored or followed by promises that teen use will skyrocket when there’s more access to cannabis.

Sadly for prohibitionists, reality just doesn’t seem to support their view of the world and the so-called dangers of marijuana legalization. In a study that analyzed self-reported marijuana use among teens, researchers found no implication that legal medical marijuana programs cause an increase in underage cannabis consumption.

Simply put, legalizing medicinal marijuana does not appear to lead to more teenagers lighting up. While there were fluctuations from year to year and state to state, overall, there were no demonstrable increases in use in states with legal medical marijuana programs when compared with previous years before the laws were passed. In the end, the study found that the legalization of medical marijuana in a state was more likely to lead to a very minor decrease in teen use.

There are many possible reasons for this correlation. One is that legalization of a medical market creates a legal avenue for cannabis production and sales, taking the huge profit margin away from black market sellers/producers. Another is that seeing adults, especially relatives with medical conditions, regularly using marijuana openly is probably destroying the mystique of  cannabis use for teens. It’s no longer rebellious, or not as much as it once was.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that this study helps disarm prohibitionists’ strongest argument. Legalization may, in fact, decrease teen cannabis use even more. In any case, legal medical marijuana programs and dispensaries have not contributed in any way to an increase in teen use. Legal markets prevent teenagers from purchasing at the retail level and take away the astronomical profit margins once enjoyed by black market sellers. With less financial incentive but the same criminal penalties, it’s likely many sources of teen cannabis will turn to other sources of income once cannabis or medical marijuana is legalized in their state.

For previous Ladybud articles about teenagers and cannabis use, click here.

Photo Credit: Sugarbear under public domain via Wikimedia Commons