Researchers find that medical marijuana laws increase recreational marijuana use among juveniles

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Medical marijuana laws increase recreational marijuana use among juveniles, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. The article appears online in the International Journal of Drug Policy, May 2015.

Figure 1. Percent marijuana use during past month among youth 12 to 17 years of age in states with and without legalized medical marijuana laws

Medical marijuana laws act to diminish the social stigma frequently associated with the recreational use of marijuana.

“Well-meaning social policy often has unintended and detrimental effects for society,” said lead author Lisa Stolzenberg, a Professor in FIU’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The researchers examined longitudinal data on juveniles aged 12 to 17 years who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Their panel study of the 50 U.S. states found that the percent of juveniles reporting recreational marijuana use increased substantially following the passage of a medical marijuana law, accounting for other potentially salient causal factors.

Figure 1 shows the percent of juvenile marijuana use in states before a medical marijuana law was passed, in states after a law was passed, and in states that did not pass a medical marijuana law. As one might expect, states that failed to implement a medical marijuana law always had the lowest level of reported juvenile marijuana use. However, what is interesting is that with the exception of the 2002-03 time-period, juvenile marijuana use was consistently higher in states that passed a medical marijuana law than in states that would eventually pass such a law.

One may wonder why juvenile use of marijuana increases following the passage of a medical marijuana law. After ruling out a change in marijuana availability as a causal factor, Stolzenberg believes that the most likely explanation is that, “Medical marijuana laws act to diminish the social stigma frequently associated with the recreational use of marijuana. By affiliating with medical marijuana users either directly or vicariously, people are themselves freed from the existing societal constraints against marijuana use.” She also claims that, “The fear among youth that a negative health outcome may result from their recreational use of marijuana is probably mollified to some degree following the passage of a medical marijuana law.”

Reference:
Stolzenberg, Lisa, Stewart J. D’Alessio, and Dustin Dariano (2015) “The Effect of Medical Cannabis Laws on Juvenile Cannabis Use.” International Journal of Drug Policy. Published online, DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2015.05.018.

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https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278333487_THE_EFFECT_OF_MEDICAL_CANNABIS_LAWS_ON_JUVENILE_CANNABIS_USE

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Lisa Stolzenberg
Florida International University
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