One of the main arguments that opponents of cannabis legalization make has to do with it getting into the hands of young people. It’s a powerful argument. Even though many of us started experimenting with cannabis at a young age (and presumably turned out fine), in general, people on both sides agree that it isn’t for kids. There is good reason behind this and quite a bit of research that suggests regular cannabis use can be harmful to young people.
The argument that we should not legalize cannabis because it will lead to more young people using it has been largely unsubstantiated until recently. In fact a handful of studies done in the United States have even found the opposite to be true, showing declining use after the implementation of more liberal cannabis policies. Recently the first large scale international study of this issue was published and the findings are surprising.
The study was published in PLOS ONE, a major peer reviewed scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science. It looked at data on about 200,000 15 year olds from 38 countries. Using statistical analysis, researchers compared self-reported cannabis use with the legal status of cannabis in that country. What they found was a significant correlation between more liberal cannabis policy and higher rates of use among adolescents. In other words: countries that have a more lax cannabis policy tend to have more teenagers who report using the drug.
There were some other surprising finds in the study as well. For one, the correlation was much weaker with boys compared to girls. That is boys were more likely to smoke regardless of the law, where as girls were more likely to experiment or use regularly if they lived in a country that leaned towards decriminalization. This is not surprising given that a similar trend has been well documented with adolescent tobacco use. Another interesting find was that the correlation was not immediate. Researchers discovered that increased adolescent use only changed five years or more after a new policy went into effect. This is not entirely surprising as availability and social attitudes don’t change immediately with the implementation of a new law.
There are a few things to keep in mind before you start showing your kids Reefer Madness on YouTube and voting against legalization in 2016. First off, the study only shows a correlation, not a causal relationship. Cannabis legalization doesn’t necessarily cause more young people to smoke weed. Also, as mentioned before the findings are global and we have in fact seen the opposite trend in the United States. Lastly, whether or not your kids smoke pot has a lot more to do with education than with the law.
As we move forward as an industry we have a responsibility to create education that relies on facts not propaganda. If you want your kids to have a responsible attitude towards marijuana, don’t demonize adults who use it, instead talk to your kids and give them the facts, you’ve got five years.
Click here to read the study.