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How Marijuana Legalization Impacts Teen Substance Use Positive Insights from New Study

How Marijuana Legalization Impacts Teen Substance Use: Positive Insights from New Study

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently published a report affirming that state legalization and regulated cannabis markets have not led to increased cannabis use among youth.
Hayley Smith
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Cannabis legalization has come a long way

A total of 24 states across the US have legalized marijuana for recreational use and a further 13 states have legalized for medicinal purposes. In 2022, Joe Biden announced a review on federal regulations which classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance and, two years later, the DEA is set to start the process of reclassifying cannabis to Schedule II.

With nearly 90% of Americans supporting legalization of marijuana, it’s about time these changes come into action. 

This huge shift towards Recreational Cannabis Legalization (RCL) and the opening of retail stores across the country has caused many people to worry that it will have an impact on youth health; encouraging an increase in the use of cannabis, as well as other substances. 

This study provides evidence that this is simply not the case, quashing fears over escalated use among teens. It also shows that in some states RCL can actually lead to a drop in marijuana use and perceived decreased ease of access among the young population.

AMA finds marijuana legalization and a controlled market does not lead to increased use amongst youth

The study drew on data collected from 898,271 teens in 47 states across the US on cannabis, alcohol, cigarette, and e-cigarette use over a five month period. The self-reported data collected from 9th to 12th graders with “parental consent” suggests that the policy changes over the last decade are not associated with increased cannabis use, nor the likelihood of entry into other substance use among teens. 

A five person team from the University of Maryland and Boston College found that the opening of recreational cannabis retail stores led to a 28% higher likelihood of zero cannabis use among teens and each additional year of RCL actually led to 8% more chance of zero cannabis use.

Furthermore, recreational legalization showed a modest reduction in alcohol use and e-cigarette use among teens. There was no noticeable change regarding cigarette use but researchers did note that teens who already used marijuana did so more frequently.

Washington State research shows a decline in teen marijuana use since legalization

Recent data released by Washington state Health Youth Survey also demonstrates a decline in teenage and adolescent use since legalization in 2012, both in their lifetime and in the last 30 days within which the survey was taken. 

The survey collected data from students across the state on a number of topics surrounding well-being, mental health and health behaviors. The data from 2021 showed a 50% drop in youth cannabis and alcohol use (among 10th graders) which remained stable through to 2023.

In contrast to claims from those in opposition to the policy change, the survey also found that the perceived ease of access to marijuana had fallen since state legalization in 2012. In 2010, prior to legalization, over half of 10th graders said it would be “sort of” or “very easy” to obtain cannabis, whereas this statistic had fallen to less than a third by 2023.

Evidence builds for the benefits of legalization and controlled markets of marijuana

These recent studies shine light upon further benefits to the legalization and the controlled sale of marijuana across the states and hold weight against skeptics who maintain that policy changes are bad for public and youth health. 

Along with increased tax revenue, employment growth, increased public safety and lower criminal justice expenditure the US is starting to build further understanding, evidence and reap the benefits of progressive policy with regards to marijuana.

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