One of the hottest of the hot-button issues among marijuana proponents and their foes has been the effect of recreational legalization on teenagers. Studies and data have either straddled both sides or been inconclusive.
A new look, albeit a flawed one, concludes that there was little difference in marijuana use rates and perception of harmlessness for Colorado teens before and after legalization there. Washington teens, however, saw increased use while their perception of cannabis as harmless also rose.
The study by Magdalena Cerdá and her University of California Davis School of Medicine colleagues looked at a national drug survey of nearly 254,000 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades and compared their usage and attitudes pre- and post-legalization. It was recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“In Washington among eighth- and 10th-graders, perceived harmfulness declined 14.2 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively, while marijuana use increased 2.0 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively,” according to a summary. In Colorado, however, “No changes were seen in perceived harmfulness or marijuana use” in Colorado post-legalization, the summary says.
“Although further data will be needed to definitively address the question of whether legalizing marijuana use for recreational purposes among adults influences adolescent use, and although these influences may differ across different legalization models, a cautious interpretation of the findings suggests investment in evidence-based adolescent substance use prevention programs in any additional states that may legalize recreational marijuana use,” the analysis concludes.
The study seems flawed to us, however. It compares teen drug data pre-legalization (2010-2012) with post-legalization figures (2013-2015). However, recreational sales didn’t begin in Colorado until Jan. 1, 2014. In Washington they didn’t start until midyear 2014.