Study: Adult-Use Marijuana Laws Linked with Decreased Online Interest Among Youth

Syracuse, NY: The enactment of state-specific adult-use marijuana regulatory laws is associated with a decrease in cannabis-specific online searches by young people, according to data pending publication in the journal Marketing Science.

Investigators from Syracuse University in New York and the University of Georgia assessed the relationship between marijuana legalization laws and online engagement concerning cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco over a three-year period.

Authors reported that legalization was associated with an increase in online interest about cannabis among adults, but was related to significantly decreased interest among young people (those ages 19 and younger).  "Contrary to widely held public concern after recreational cannabis is legalized, teenagers appear to lose interest, rather than gain interest," the study’s lead author stated in a press release. "Policymakers only concerned with an uptick in teen users, may want to rethink their stance."

Researchers also reported a decrease in online engagement and advertising effectiveness for alcohol products following legalization. But they did not identify a similar trend concerning tobacco, which showed an increase. "Hence, cannabis appears to be a substitute to alcohol, but not to tobacco," they wrote in the abstract to the study.

Questions persist about the issue of whether cannabis more typically acts as a substitute to alcohol or as a complement. A 2017 study reported a decline in alcoholic beverage sales in counties with liberalized medical marijuana policies as compared to controls, and a 2014 review paper on the topic acknowledged that cannabis "does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol" among various segments of the population. By contrast, a 2019 report published by the Distilled Spirits Council indicated no long-term impact on alcohol sales in states that have implemented recreational cannabis sales.

For more information, contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director. Full text of the study, "Asymmetric effects of recreational cannabis legalization," appears in Market Science.