There has been much speculation about whether or not cannabis use in teens has gone up or down due to legalization and medical acceptance in states across the U.S. Some studies have looked for a positive impact on lowering teen use, while detractors have claimed cannabis is now more accessible. It turns out, according to a recent study, statewide legal and medical cannabis don’t have much of an impact at all on youth use. 

The study, titled “Marijuana Legalization and Marijuana Prevention Among Adolescents,” was initially published in The American Journal of Public Health. Researchers for the study are affiliated with the University of California at Irvine. During the study, they looked at cannabis-use patterns in youth and the youth involved in the justice system for cannabis use in the years right before and after legalization. Cannabis use levels in legal, medical, and non-legal and non-medical states were all similar.

The objectives of the study were “to determine the impact of California’s recreational marijuana legalization on marijuana use among justice system–involved (JSI) adolescents and young adults, and to distinguish whether any changes resulted from legalization (passing the law) or from implementation of the law.”

“Contrary to the claims of many legalization opponents, changes in states’ marijuana policies have not led to any significant rise in cannabis use among young people,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in relation to the results of the study, according to a press release. “Overall, most voters believe that these adult-use policies are operating as intended, which is why no state that has legalized the use of cannabis for either medical or adult-use purposes has ever repealed their law.”

“California JSI youths did not demonstrate a significant increase in marijuana use after [adult-use] legalization or implementation,” the study goes on to explain. “In fact, marijuana consumption rates among young people in California were lower than those reported by young people in Pennsylvania over the same time period.

Consistent Results From Multiple Studies

Many other papers and studies report similar results, claiming that legal cannabis is not specifically associated with youth using more cannabis. While there could be an indirect relation between attitudes towards cannabis in a state and youth use, there is no direct relation stemming from legalization. There has been little variance in adolescent cannabis use from 2000 to 2019, in fact. The rate has stayed between 42 and 49 percent. 

“Although recreational marijuana legalization was not associated with changes in marijuana use among youths in California, we observed increased rates of use in Pennsylvania after legalization in California,” the study continues. “Recreational marijuana laws may be indirectly related to youths’ marijuana use by supporting more permissive national attitudes toward marijuana.”

“In summary, prevalence of marijuana use among adolescents has remained remarkably steady over the past 20 years despite substantial changes in its legality across the United States during this period,” the study says to wrap things up. While there are a lot of factors implemented by legal and recreational cannabis, it turns out youth use is not one of them.

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