Relationship between Legalized Marijuana and Juvenile Marijuana Use

Summary & Limitations:

The most apparent limitation to studying this particular question is that few states have legalized recreational marijuana and those that have, have only done so in the last few years. After legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, Colorado is one of the only states to provide a relatively comprehensive statewide analysis of surveys that include questions about juvenile use of marijuana. Washington State provides a less robust, but nonetheless informative, data brief on the subject as well. The literature that does exist focuses primarily on changes in juvenile use as a result of the legalization of medicinal marijuana and the results are mixed, largely due to methods and datasets employed. General consensus appears to support the idea that regardless of whether or not use increases, juveniles’ perceived risk of using marijuana decreases.


Articles & Reports

Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee. “Monitoring health concerns related to marijuana in Colorado: 2016 changes in marijuana use patterns, systematic literature review, and possible marijuana-related health effects.” (2017).

This report is released every two years by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and includes a descriptive analysis of a number of health surveys that include question regarding marijuana. This summary focuses on the portions of Section Two examining “Marijuana Use among Adolescents and Young Adults.” Comparing Colorado to its own past survey results, authors found:

  • No significant overall change in the rates of self-reported use in the past-month between 2013 and 2015. However, when separated by grade, Colorado 11th graders did have a significant increase between 2013 and 2015.
  • No discernable trend across the frequency of use in the past month reported between 2005 and 2015.
  • The rate of past-month use in adolescents is almost identical to the national average.
  • The current marijuana use remains lower than the current rates for alcohol consumption and higher than the current rate for tobacco use.
    Prevention efforts are still advocated as more than five percent of high school students use marijuana daily or near daily and approximately one-third of adolescents who use marijuana first used it by 14 years of age.

Schuermeyer, Joseph, et al. “Temporal trends in marijuana attitudes, availability and use in Colorado compared to non-medical marijuana states: 2003–11.” Drug and alcohol dependence 140 (2014): 145-155.

This report explored the differences in changes in attitudes toward marijuana use and marijuana-use between Colorado and thirty-four “non-medical marijuana states.” The most notable results of the study relating to adolescents (ages 12-17) in Colorado include a decrease in perceived risk over time and an increase in perceived marijuana availability over time, when compared to states with no medical marijuana legalization. Further research with the release of more data will confirm or counter the assertion that a decrease in perceived risk precedes in increase in marijuana use.

This report also provides a literature review that demonstrates the mixed conclusions regarding the legalization of marijuana and related juvenile use. This is highlighted by mention of a limitation that is common among these studies – the inability to determine the impact of pre-existing statewide attitudes toward marijuana on continued use. As the authors state, “it is likely with more lenient attitudes towards marijuana are targeted for policy change.” Nonetheless, the authors conclude, just as the authors of the Colorado Report above, prevention efforts should be implemented.

Stolzenberg, Lisa, Stewart J. D’Alessio, and Dustin Dariano. “The effect of medical cannabis laws on juvenile cannabis use.” International Journal of Drug Policy 27 (2016): 82-88.

The study compares the before and after rate of prior-month drug use in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. It also surveyed juveniles about prior month usage of non-marijuana illicit drugs. The study examined the 16 states that enacted medical marijuana laws prior to 2011.

The conclusions of the study support prior studies asserting that legalizing marijuana leads to increased juvenile use. Their findings note that both the passage of medical marijuana laws and an increase in perceived availability lead to an increase in juvenile marijuana use. That being said, the study did not find evidence that legalization of marijuana increased the use of other illicit drugs. The authors hypothesize that these results are related to the fact that the legalization of marijuana seems to decrease the social stigma associated with it.