Legalization won't lead to a significant increase in youth marijuana use

Published Jun 10, 2021 09:00 a.m. ET
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Now that we’ve legalized cannabis use for adults, we’re left with the task of figuring out how to regulate the market in a way that keeps it as safe as possible for everyone. Adults, for the most part, can freely indulge without fear of repercussions, be it from a legal or health perspective. The “ideal” aka minimum age to start seems to vary from one region to the next, but we all agree that youth, in general, should be steering clear of the powerful green plant and all of its derivatives.

Why we’re so worried about youth marijuana use

If cannabis use is so safe for adults, then why are we increasingly concerned about the number of underage people who choose to partake? It’s a valid question that comes from a place of complacency triggered by the assumption that’s safe means that it can’t come with any kind of risks. We hear it everywhere that the plant isn’t dangerous, but that doesn’t mean its effects don’t come with some consequences for youth in particular.

We have some evidence that points to youth marijuana use as the cause for concern. Though much of it seems to be short term, with things like memory, IQ scores, motor function, and other skills only temporarily hindered by cannabis use, at a time when children are learning, this has the potential to inflict a devastating impact. Since we haven't yet confirmed the true dangers of underage consumption on the body or mind, teens tend to believe that they’re safe.

A misplaced sense of trust in this natural plant could, in theory, lead to a higher rate of youth marijuana use, and that’s why so many experts were worried about the possibility of legalization having this impact, but now that we’ve had the time and data to study from various regions with some form of legal cannabis, it’s becoming consistently clear that we really don’t have to worry too much about the number of teens who are getting high.

Current research on the subject

This is a sentiment that advocated have been echoing for years now, as we watched Canada legalize cannabis without any significant increase in youth marijuana use, but it was recently confirmed yet again by the results of the ‘Monitoring the Future’ study. This study focused specifically on any changes that might arise in underage cannabis use immediately following legalization, by looking at trends over the last 12 months, during which time, several states have enacted new laws to allow the use of the plant.

Researchers found no significant increase or decrease in self-reported cannabis use in hundreds of 10th and 12th-grade students who reside in newly legal states. What they did find, however, was a significant decrease in the number of underage vapers, a number that dropped by nearly half of one percent.

Better cannabis education for youth

Once again, it has been confirmed that the mere act of legalization, which increases ease of access to cannabis, does not necessarily cause a jump in youth marijuana use, but this could be in part due to better education and understanding on the subject. Parents are better informed, and they’re passing down this incredibly useful information. Schools are also getting in on the action by formulating new ways to bring awareness to the risks for kids.

Everyone is working together to make this happen, and as a result, it seems that our youth are also evolving and adjusting to this strange new world. Making it legal doesn’t necessarily make it ok or safe, just like with alcohol, and our children do recognize that fact.

The stigma around cannabis and kids has a high cost for some youth

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