Source: July 30, 2014

The legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes in many U.S. states has sparked concerns about adolescent usage. Federal officials believe that legalization encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have specifically targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and playgrounds. A new study contends that these concerns aren’t always based in fact.

In a working paper titled Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use, D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen, and Daniel I. Rees leveraged national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, and the Treatment Episode Data Set to show that increased legalization doesn’t necessarily lead to increased use of marijuana among teenagers.

The original belief that dispensaries were causing marijuana usage among teens was spurred by revelations that marijuana use was declining until the mid-2000’s when, according to Monitoring the Future data, there was a 3 to 4 percent increase in students that reported having used marijuana in the past 30-days and a similar decrease in 10th and 12th graders that viewed the drug as risky.

In the recently released study, the researchers found conflicting evidence that showed that the legalization of marijuana is not accompanied by increases in the use of marijuana among high school students. Estimates from their preferred specification were small, negative, and statistically indistinguishable from zero even when using a 95% confidence interval around the estimates.

The authors went on to speculate that some of the differences between teen usage in states where the drug has been legalized versus non-legalized could be accounted for by the fact that suppliers allowed to sell to adults without being prosecuted may be less likely to sell to minors since that remains a risk proposition. In fact, the DEA has been targeting such offenses much more seriously as of late.

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