Teens drinking and smoking Facebook share image

A group of teenagers drinking and smoking.

By Chris Bovey

Cannabis legalisation in the USA does not appear to increase teen usage and may have the opposite effect, a new US study suggests.

Researchers examined survey data on substance use collected from 1.4 million adolescents between 1993 and 2017 to see how teenage marijuana consumption differed in states that have reformed the law and those that have not.

While overall consumption of cannabis among young people went up in the US, teen use declined by nearly 10% in states where recreational use was legalised.

Cannabis remains illegal in all states for people under the age of 21.

Map of USA showing which US states have legalised recreation or medical cannabis.

Illinois just became the first state to legalize marijuana sales through the legislature — here are all the states where marijuana is legal

The study flies in the face of critics who warn liberalising cannabis laws could see an increase in cannabis usage amongst teens.

While it is generally agreed cannabis does not have any negative impact on the health of an adult brain, there have been some studies that suggest it might affect an adolescent’s developing brain, although some argue this is overstated.

The prohibitionists warn that legalising could lead to an increase in usage amongst minors and will send the wrong message, yet this study shows the opposite is the case.

Mark Anderson of Montana State University and colleagues looked at existing data from an ongoing anonymous survey of teenagers’ behaviour, which has been carried out every other year since the 1990s. His team wanted to see if there were any trends in drug use linked with changes to weed laws.

Cannabis usage in teens declined by nearly 10 per cent in legal recreational states

States that had legalised recreational cannabis laws for adults were associated with an 8% decline in the odds that teens would report trying cannabis in the previous 30 days and a 9% decrease in teens reporting frequent use.

Mark Anderson said the findings “should help to quell some concerns that use among teens will actually go up”.

“That might be because when cannabis has become legal, it starts being sold at licensed dispensaries that require proof of age, and these tend to displace criminal drug dealers.

“Teens could just use fake IDs or have someone over 21 buy for them, but the point is that it is now more difficult than prior to the law being passed,

“Selling to minors becomes a relatively more risky proposition after the passage of these laws, says Anderson.”

The study found little difference in states where only medical marijuana has been legalised.

Not good news for prohibitionists and moralising killjoys

Mr Mackey from the cartoon South Park with the caption "Drugs are bad, Mkay".

Please think of the children by legalising weed.

I have always maintained that an adult should be free to choose what they can and cannot put in their body. It is absurd that adults can buy a bottle cheap Vodka in Tesco and get completely hammered, yet consuming or growing cannabis, which is scientifically proven to be considerably safer than legal alcohol could land you up in prison in the UK.

I have a teenage son who will be 17-years-old next January in 2020. He’s never tried alcohol or cannabis. He thinks it is uncool probably because he knows his dad likes to partake, so therefore by very definition, uncool. If I’m brutally honest, I’m glad he has no interest at his age, especially the alcohol.

That is not the case for all under-18s, many of whom experiment with drugs often due to peer group pressure.

The study backs up what we already know from The Netherlands, where they have lower cannabis consumption amongst minors than we do in the UK, precisely because the point of sale in the nation’s famous coffeeshops requires age verifications and vendors face such strict penalties if they get caught selling to under-18s, they simply do not do it.

This was in line with a previous study by the RAND corporation that found marijuana usage in teen went down Washington after the state legalised in 2012.

Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association also found pot smoking in teens dropped after legalisation.

The next time you hear a moralising killjoy suggest that we cannot legalise cannabis laws because we have to think of the children, point them to this study in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

While you’re at it, please also remind them of the criminal element in cannabis production who people traffic Vietnamese Slave Children to produce sub-standard cannabis in the most horrendous conditions. An evil that could be ended if we did the same as they have done in the Canada, Uruguay and much of the USA by legalising cannabis.


Chris Bovey, writer and musician.

Chris Bovey is a businessman, writer, artist, musician and practical joker. He lives in Devon with his partner, two children and cat. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter @_dr_dremp.

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