Legalizing medical marijuana has led to a decline in cannabis use among high school students, according to a new study from the researchers at Boston College. The large-scale study, published February 14 in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, reveals that fewer teens smoke marijuana in the states that have approved medical marijuana legalization amendments.
Opponents to legalization have touted the fear that legalizing cannabis will result in stoned children run amok, but that is not the case after the 16 years analyzed for this study.
“We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws,” says the study’s leader, Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley, Professor of psychology at Boston College.
The study analyzed the results of the anonymous youth drug surveys taken by high school students throughout the United States from 1999 to 2015. More than 800,000 teen surveys were analyzed from 45 different states to determine the number of high school students who consume marijuana.
Taking into account variables like “tobacco and alcohol policies, economic trends, youth characteristics, and state demographics,” the study calculated that there are 1.1% fewer teenage cannabis smokers in the states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
Surveys from black and Hispanic teens showed an even larger decline. “When we looked at particular subgroups of adolescents, this reduction became even more pronounced. For example 3.9% less Black and 2.7% less Hispanic youths now use marijuana in states with medical marijuana legalization (MML),” said Coley.
The study also determined that the decline in teenage use directly correlates with the number of years medical cannabis has been legal in the state. The states that enacted medical marijuana legislation early on report the lowest figures for teen use.
“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful,” said Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley. “However, we saw the opposite effect. We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased.”
While the research team has not identified exactly why legalization has led to a decline in the number of teenagers who smoke marijuana, one theory proposed by Coley is that parents have changed the way they talk to kids about cannabis and drug use in general. Education may impact a student’s decision about whether or not to use drugs.
The results of this study suggest that we need more research considering medical cannabis legalization may not be as detrimental to the youth of the nation as some people once predicted.