Study: Medical Marijuana Legalization Is Not Accompanied By Increases In Teen Cannabis Use

[Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]

The legalization of cannabis for therapeutic purposes is not associated with increases in the use of marijuana or other illicit substances among adolescents, according to discussion paper commissioned by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany.

Economists from Montana State University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Colorado, Denver examined the relationship between state medical cannabis laws and marijuana consumption among high school students. Authors analyzed data from the national and state Youth Risky Behavior Surveys (YRBS) for the years 1993 through 2009 – during which time 13 states enacted law allowing for the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The national YRBS is conducted biennially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students.

Authors reported that the survey data provides no evidence that the enactment of medical cannabis legalization adversely impacted adolescents’ drug consumption. They concluded: “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana and other substances among high school students. … Our results suggest that the legalization of medical marijuana was not accompanied by increases in the use of marijuana or other substances such as alcohol and cocaine among high school students. Interestingly, several of our estimates suggest that marijuana use actually declined with the passage of medical marijuana laws.”

A 2012 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal and published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology previously reported similar findings, concluding: “[P]assing MMLs (medical marijuana laws) decreased past-month use among adolescents … and had no discernible effect on the perceived riskiness of monthly use. … [These] estimates suggest that reported adolescent marijuana use may actually decrease following the passing of medical marijuana laws.”

Previous investigations by research teams at Brown University in 2011 and Texas A&M in 2007 made similar determinations, concluding, “[C]onsistent with other studies of the liberalization of cannabis laws, medical cannabis laws do not appear to increase use of the drug.”

The findings of these studies contradict public statements made by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske and other medical cannabis opponents, who in recent years have repeatedly alleged that the passage of medical cannabis laws is directly responsible for higher levels of self-reported marijuana consumption among US teenagers.

Full text of the study, “Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use,” is available online at:

18 thoughts

  1. Holy smoke, reproducible results from scientific studies. I wonder if the vainglorious drug war ideologues will pay any attention this time.

  2. Don’t waste time trying to prove to people, what they already blindly believe. It’s just a made up rumor to get parents angry enough to vote.

  3. This is a bit off-topic, but I just wanted to note that when I first went on line in ’97 and checked in with Norml there might have been a new article about some development in the legalization movement once a week on the entire internet, and often those reports were about minor or ineffective efforts to break through the mind-numbing propaganda coming from the government and allied prohibitionist groups. How the times have changed. Now there are new stories every day, and they are more and more about how that stubborn resistance to common sense treatment of cannabis is breaking down.

    I think the tipping point has been reached, and we may be surprised by how quickly the goal of a legal, regulated marketplace for all aspects of the incredibly versatile and beneficial cannabis plant will be attained. It seems to me that this plant will be a significant player in our transition to a greener, cleaner world.

  4. Of course teen use isn’t going to increase with medical marijuana laws. What people fail to understand if a kid wants to smoke marijuana they already do if they don’t want to passing medical marijuana laws isn’t going to change their mind. I was 11 when I first smoked pot and I made the decision myself then it took me only a couple hours of looking to find it without being previously exposed to anyone that smoked it. Keep in mind I live in a town of about 400 people in the strongest part of the bible belt with strict religious parents and there is no medical marijuana in my state. This was ten years ago I bet it would be even easier now.

  5. I agree with bradson, switch booze for weed and you get a calmer more wel adjusted population willing to accept new ideals such as conservation and alternative energies.

  6. Walk into a any high school in America and ask a typical (young looking)16 year old to get you a 6 pack of Budwiser or 750ml of Absolute. He’ll probably need to consult with alternate (older) sources to get it for him. There may even be a little bit of planning and scheming to coordinate an ‘of age’ buyer such as an older sibling, friend, etc. They may have to steal it from parents, etc. It may take a day or two or more. It’s NOT EASY for him to get!!

    Ask that same teenager to get you a 8th of buds and he most likely can get it immediately, right at school, from multiple sources (depending on which pot dealer is in what class or NOT at the time). Even if they don’t smoke, they most likely have friends who do! (every person on this planet knows more pot smokers than they think – they just don’t know it) You’ll get your 8th!!
    The point is, it’s readily available to EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL teenager in the USA! Every one!
    End MJ Prohibition and (similar to alcohol)the kids will need to work hard to get it.
    Stupid people make stupid statements and generalizations about things they know nothing of…. just tellin’ it like it is! These are just plain hard facts, self evident to anyone with a brain and some basic common sense… 😉

  7. “Our results suggest that the legalization of medical marijuana was not accompanied by increases in the use of marijuana or other substances such as alcohol and cocaine among high school students. Interestingly, several of our estimates suggest that marijuana use actually declined with the passage of medical marijuana laws.”

    This is to be expected when you ‘give’ something to society instead of ‘taking it away.’ A ‘take away’ approach always leads to people chasing after something that they “can not have.” This is basic human nature science. Give humans something or make it free and they will always take it for granted and discard it. The is the reason why the whole “forbidden fruit” thing fails.

    In medical marijuana states, marijuana consumers are no longer seen as gangsta or epic, but rather as everyday ordinary people — especially a lot of dull old people. Marijuana becomes less cool than cocaine and booze. Big alcohol is going out of their way to target high school age children, not to mention the rest of society, with sex and sports. And doctors and big pharma is pushing prescriptions on TV and other media. Who then is pushing marijuana? Grandma selling her baked goods, drinks, candies, and herbs to a bunch of ordinary old people on the corner store. Making marijuana legal, especially without advertising, makes it boring.

  8. The guy above me is an idiot listen to me! My points are more valid and based on nothing as well. Commenting will solve all our problems.

  9. We continue to push for medical marijuana and all studys are referencing “medical marijuana.” What about the legalization and/or decriminalization of marijuana. We are lobbying ourselves into a corner that will be another hurdle to overcome in the future.

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