teen marijuana

Critics may be off base to suggest that legalizing marijuana for adults will cause youth usage to skyrocket

We have gotten to the point where the most common arguments against marijuana reform often focus on children. The implication is usually that legalizing marijuana for adults will cause youth usage to skyrocket. Yet there is now more research that indicates even these fears could be misplaced.

A new NBER Working Paper from D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen, and Daniel I. Rees examined what happened to marijuana use rates among minors after states legalized medical marijuana. They found the data didn’t indicate medical marijuana legalization laws increased teen consumption and there might actually be a small negative correlation. From the paper’s conclusion:

Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero. Using the 95 percent confidence interval around these estimates suggests that the impact of legalizing medical marijuana on the probability of marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.8 percentage points, and the impact of legalization on the probability of frequent marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.7
percentage points.

Obviously, there are some key differences between medical marijuana laws and laws which would legalize adult use so these results might not translate — but there is good reason to suspect they may.

While medical marijuana programs vary greatly among states there are several where the rules are extremely permissive. In these states it was easy for most adults to get a recommendation and a large number of dispensaries were opened. The result is these states had something fairly close to a de facto legalization.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Photo by Travis Lupic under Creative Commons license