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U.S. Drug Official: Legalization Hasn’t Led To Jumps In Adolescent Use

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Cannabis opponents have several go-to propaganda talking points, however, the ‘what about the children’ talking point seems to be their favorite one. It’s definitely one that they go to early and often whenever cannabis reform efforts are ramping up in a particular jurisdiction and opponents want to spread false fear.

However, that talking point is slowly dying a natural death as cannabis reform continues to spread across the globe. With every reform that is implemented, the ‘what about the children’ talking point gets further debunked as a regulated system keeps youth consumption rates in check.

Opponents act as if cannabis reform opens the floodgates to youth access to cannabis while simultaneously acting as if prohibition is a better policy. The fact of the matter is that under prohibition cannabis is still widely available for most youth, and the cannabis that they obtain is untested and could be contaminated with who knows what.

Compare that to a regulated system where products are tested, as well as tracked from seed to sale. In a regulated system, people check the ID of the purchaser to ensure that they are of legal age. Under prohibition, there obviously is no legal age – youth are only hindered by finding a dealer that will sell to them.

The top federal drug official in the United States recently acknowledged that legalization has not resulted in a spike in youth consumption, which serves as a direct blow to the propaganda efforts of cannabis opponents. Below is more information about it from our friends at NORML via a news release:

The enactment of statewide laws regulating the adult-use cannabis market has not led to an increase in the percentage of young people experimenting with the plant, according to comments made recently by Nora Volkow, Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Speaking on a podcast hosted by Ethan Nadelmann, the former Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Volkow admitted that she had initially expressed concerns that legalization would lead to an increase in the prevalence of adolescents consuming cannabis. Thus far, however, she said, “Overall, it hasn’t.”

To date, dozens of federal and state-specific surveys have failed to identify any independent link between the legalization of cannabis for either adult-use or medical purposes and any rise in the percentage of teens using it. Moreover, data published in 2019 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics reported that the enactment of laws regulating the use of cannabis by adults is associated with declines in self-reported marijuana use by young people. Separate data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control has reported that the number of adolescents admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana-related issues has fallen precipitously in states that have legalized and regulated the adult-use market.

During the interview, Volkow also acknowledged that legalization has been associated with “better outcomes” in various states, and that federal laws and regulations on the cannabis plant have “hindered” scientists’ ability to research it – particularly with respect to the plant’s therapeutic efficacy.

An audio archive of the Nadelmann/Volkow interview is available online. Additional information regarding cannabis and teen use patterns is available from the NORML fact sheet, ‘Marijuana Regulation and Teen Use Rates.’