One of the most popular arguments against marijuana legalization can basically be summed up with the famous Simpsons scene where Helen Lovejoy yells, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” Opponents of marijuana legalization have frequently tried to scare voters by claiming legalization would result in a significant increase in the use or availability of cannabis among teenagers.
For example, an official argument against I-502 published in Washington State’s 2012 voter guide began by stating, “Legalizing marijuana will greatly increase its availability and lead to more use, abuse, and addiction among adults and youth. Most 12th graders currently report not using marijuana because it is illegal.” Similarly, just two months ago, the first argument used by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in an op-ed against a legalization initiative in his state was that, “Kids in states that have legalized marijuana have easier access to the drug.” Yet new research undermines these claims.
A study to be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting found that in Washington State there was effectively no change in how easy teenagers felt it was to acquire marijuana after the state legalized it. The research looked at data from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey. Back in 2010 when marijuana was still illegal under state law, it found 55 percent of teens in Washington reported that it was “easy” to access marijuana. By comparison in 2014, the year the state implemented legalization, 54 percent of teens said marijuana was easy to access.
Since marijuana legalization is a relatively new and limited phenomenon, the study looked at only one state for a rather limited window of time. While more studies should be done on this issue, this is still very reassuring news for legalization supporters. It should make the public more skeptical about many of the arguments made against legalization.
In addition to this real-world data, there is also a very logical reason to doubt opponents’ claims that legalization will increase teen access. Currently, the black market has zero incentive to not sell to people underage or check IDs. On the other hand, legal licensed businesses risk big fees or closure if caught selling to minors. Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division in their first underage stings found 100 percent compliance while Washington had a compliance rate of 81 percent in their first round of marijuana age check stings.
The news bodes well for cannabis advocates across the country, and we hope to see more research into this issue soon.