Has Weed Legalization Increased the Number of Teenage Users?

Effect of weed legalization on teenagers

One of the main concerns about legalizing cannabis was that more adolescents would smoke it, and that they would smoke much more of it. As it turns out, these are completely unfounded fears. According to a study on the effects of marijuana legalization on teenagers, conducted by The Lancet Psychiatry, teenage marijuana use does not increase in states where cannabis is legal.

Weed Legalization and Teenagers

This particular study was notably exhaustive and used data compiled over 24 years on more than a million adolescents in 48 states. It found no evidence that teenagers use more weed after legalizing it. The Columbia University Medical Center in New York analyzed data collected from 1991 to 2014 on teens aged between 13- and 18-years old.

To date, these findings are the most comprehensive and accurate on the subject, providing the strongest evidence that legalization does not lead to increased teenage use. Instead, it shows that marijuana use among adolescents was already higher in legal states than in non-legal ones. This indicates that other factors may be responsible.

Because using cannabis at a young age can lead to various long-term health problems, identifying the actual reasons for teenage use should be the highest priority. Another study, conducted by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, or CDPHE, found that 22 percent of high school students were using marijuana in 2011. By 2013, this figure was a lesser 20 percent.

Impact of Weed Legalization on the Teenagers

In California, it has been legal to use medical marijuana for two decades already. According to the 13th Biennial California Student Survey, teenage use of cannabis was actually less prevalent after legalization than before. Interestingly, another study, entitled “Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use,” did find more teenagers using pot, but only in states where medical cannabis was illegal.

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Evidence is mounting. This growing body of research, which includes the abovementioned studies and several others, indicates that legalization has little to no effect on teenage use. In the future, states should consider this information when deciding whether to legalize medical and recreational cannabis or not. Using scientific evidence to challenge ideologies must drive future studies into weed policy.

Opponents of legalization cite now debunked reports to prove their argument. One in particular, the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future,” claims that pot access is on the rise and that more teenagers are using it. However, the National Survey on Drug Use notes that teenage weed use goes through cycles and has actually decreased significantly over the last 50 years.

Back in 1979, 36 percent of adolescents were smoking pot. By 2014, only 23 percent were using it. Ever since research on the subject began in 1975, cannabis has consistently been the most available drug for teens. In those days, 81 percent could get hold of it relatively easily. Today, 90 percent have access. Despite this, the decrease in teenage use remains huge.

Furthermore, usage declined slightly in all three grades tested for lifetime, annual, monthly, and daily use. This unexpected finding is particularly surprising because marijuana has been receiving very positive publicity over the last several years and one would expect increased use instead. It is now more important than ever before to identify the real factors responsible for weed use among teens.

What Teens Think of Cannabis Legalization?

When asked directly, most teenagers will tell you that legalization is irrelevant to their usage patterns. Peer pressure, problems at school or at home, mental and physical health issues, stress, and more are contributing factors, not whether it is legal or not. In fact, legalization takes the fun out of rebelling and many are finding other ways to release pent-up frustrations instead, such as other dangerous drugs.

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The average teenager really has little interest in the politicking of adults. The fact that pot is now legal has not made it more accessible or desirable to them. They have been using it without limited restriction for decades already, and there is actually less incentive for them to use it now in states where it is legal. For many, smoking cannabis has lost its ‘naughty’ stigma entirely.


Medical marijuana is now legal in more states than not. Recreational legalization is fast catching up, with California, Washington, Colorado and other states leading the way. As with tobacco and alcohol, full legalization is inevitable, under strict regulation, of course. Youth campaigns to prevent teens from endangering their health with irresponsible use can be highly effective when implemented correctly.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar for laura.sillar laura.sillar June 9, 2017 / 7:54 pm / Reply

    many teenager are smoking cannabis has lost its ‘naughty’ stigma entirely. I also think that Govt can approve with tobacco and alcohol, full legalization is inevitable, under strict regulation, of course.

  2. Avatar for aaron.french aaron.french June 12, 2017 / 10:20 pm / Reply

    If tobacco and alcohol, full legalization is inevitable, under strict regulation here then where is the problem in Marijuanna ?

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