Federal Report: Marijuana Treatment Admissions Among Youth Decline Sharply in Legalization States

Marijuana and Teens

The number of adolescents admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana-related issues has fallen precipitously in states that have legalized and regulated its adult-use, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, entitled Trends in Adolescent Treatment Admissions for Marijuana in the United States, 2008-2017, finds that, nationally, “adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana declined in most of states. The mean annual admissions rate for all states declined over the study period by nearly half, from 60 (admissions per 10,000 adolescents) in 2008 to 31 in 2017.” States experiencing the “steepest level of admissions decline” were among those that had enacted adult-use legalization laws.

Commenting on the study, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that legalization policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse.”

While the report’s author suggested various possible reasons for the trend, he did not assess whether declining marijuana admissions rates were correlated with changes in marijuana law enforcement and sentencing. Data published in 2017 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse reported that over half of all young people entered into drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system.

The CDC report concludes, “[T]his research suggests that a precipitous national decline in adolescent treatment admissions [is occurring], particularly in states legalizing recreational marijuana use.”

Separate studies have similarly reported that the prevalence of problematic marijuana use (so-called cannabis use disorder a/k/a CUD) among young people and adults has declined steadily since 2002.

In addition, a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded: “Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth. Moreover, the estimates reported … showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes. This latter result is consistent … with the argument that it is more difficult for teenagers to obtain marijuana as drug dealers are replaced by licensed dispensaries that require proof of age.”

Additional information regarding marijuana use patterns among young people is available from the NORML fact-sheet here.