Cannabis Treatment Admissions Among Youth Decline Sharply In Legalization States

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One of the favorite talking points amongst cannabis opponents is ‘what about the children?’ They go to that talking point early and often when a state/country is trying to reform its cannabis laws, warning of dramatic spikes in cannabis use among youth.

For many decades that was an effective talking point in that it scared a lot of people, and it was hard to disprove because cannabis prohibition was in full effect and there wasn’t any data to point to in order to directly debunk the claim.

Fortunately, that has changed in recent years due to the fact that a number of states in the U.S. and two countries have legalized cannabis for adult use.

We all now know that the children will be just fine and that regulation is a better public policy approach compared to prohibition, as highlighted in the results of a recent study. Below is more information about the study via a press release from our friends at NORML:

The number of adolescents admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana-related issues has fallen precipitously in states that have legalized and regulated its adult-use, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commenting on the study, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that legalization policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse.”

The report, entitled Trends in Adolescent Treatment Admissions for Marijuana in the United States, 2008-2017, finds that, nationally, “adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana declined in most of states. The mean annual admissions rate for all states declined over the study period by nearly half, from 60 (admissions per 10,000 adolescents) in 2008 to 31 in 2017.” States experiencing the “steepest level of admissions decline” were among those that had enacted adult-use legalization laws.

While the report’s author suggested various possible reasons for the trend, he did not assess whether declining marijuana admissions rates were correlated with changes in marijuana law enforcement and sentencing. Data published in 2017 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse reported that over half of all young people entered into drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system.

The CDC report concludes, “[T]his research suggests that a precipitous national decline in adolescent treatment admissions [is occurring], particularly in states legalizing recreational marijuana use.”

Separate studies have similarly reported that the prevalence of problematic marijuana use (so-called cannabis use disorder a/k/a CUD) among young people and adults has declined steadily since 2002.

In addition, a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded: “Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth. Moreover, the estimates reported … showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes. This latter result is consistent … with the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.”

Additional information regarding marijuana use patterns among young people is available from the NORML fact sheet.

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NORML advocates for changes in public policy so that the responsible possession and use of marijuana by adults is no longer subject to criminal penalties. NORML further advocates for a regulated commercial cannabis market so that activities involving the for-profit production and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products are safe, transparent, consumer-friendly, and are subject to state and/or local licensure. Finally, NORML advocates for additional changes in legal and regulatory policies so that those who use marijuana responsibly no longer face either social stigma or workplace discrimination, and so that those with past criminal records for marijuana-related violations have the opportunity to have their records automatically expunged.

Find out more at norml.org and read our Fact Sheets on the most common misconceptions and myths regarding reform efforts around the country.

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