Legalization Leads to Fewer Teens Trying Cannabis

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Social scientists and government workers have been trying to isolate the motivations for teenage drug use for decades. They have blamed everything from peer pressure to lax parental oversight. However, it appears that a desire to break rules maybe a significant contributing factor in the way that American teenagers experiment with both illicit drugs and alcohol.

Post-legalization research out of Washington state helps build on the argument of taboo breaking as motive for drug and alcohol experimentation. One of the first responses often seen among those who support ongoing prohibition of cannabis is a pearl clutching cry of “won’t someone please think of the children?” They always take the stance that teen cannabis use will surely increased in states where it is seen as legal.

However, here at Ladybud, there’s always been a hint of skepticism about the idea that legalization would motivate teenagers to try cannabis. Most states have had great success at preventing minors from access cannabis through dispensaries. Combine that with more adults openly using cannabis, and you have a recipe for declining teen use.

After all, how cool is a teen going to feel if they’re doing the same thing with their friends on a Saturday night that their Grandma does on Sunday morning with her coffee or that their parents do while socializing and watching sports? Now that cannabis is going mainstream, it probably seems pretty boring and pedestrian compared to the mystique it once had.

Now, there’s research that supports the idea of legalization decreasing teen cannabis use. Washington State University’s College of Nursing recently published findings showing a marked decrease in teen cannabis use. It dropped nearly 3% in 8th graders, almost 4% in 10th graders, and 2.5% in 12th graders between 2010 and 2016.

Interestingly enough, the subgroup with the highest use levels involved teens who worked 11 or more hours each week. Exposure to adult substance use at work and more income likely both impacted the higher rate of cannabis use among teens with jobs.

A reduction in social stigma reduces one of the main motivating factors for teenage experimentation. While there will always be some teenagers to continue to experiment with cannabis before their brain stop growing, legalization will not increase that number. In fact, it may very well lower it, except for the teens who have already entered the daily grind of adult life.

For previous Ladybud articles about teens, click here.