As marijuana laws continue to undergo significant changes in the U.S. and beyond, the question of how youth could be affected remains a topic of frequent discussion. Critics have expressed concern that increased availability through dispensaries could result in marijuana products falling into the wrong hands, while supporters often point out that regulated facilities offer heightened security and control over how marijuana is distributed.
To better illuminate these issues, a new study published in Current Addiction Reports reviewed extensive data from states that have approved the medical or adult use of marijuana. After examining the results of 55 prior studies on the subject, the researchers found no evidence of increased marijuana use among youth:
Liberal forms of medical cannabis regulation have probably reduced prices and increased the availability of cannabis. Analyses of survey data suggest that these changes have increased the prevalence and frequency of cannabis use among adults over the age of 21 years, but they have not to date increased rates of cannabis use among adolescents. [Springer Link]
This conclusion serves as a valuable point of reference as policymakers work to meet the needs of medical marijuana patients in a manner that is consistent with broader public health goals. More than 20 years have passed since the first medical marijuana law was established in the U.S. and with such laws now on the books in a majority of states, our ability to assess public health outcomes is greater than ever before. Evidence that rates of marijuana use among youth remain unaffected reflects well on the efforts of numerous stakeholders to implement medical marijuana programs responsibly.
Though these findings may come as a surprise to some, they serve to illustrate principles that medical marijuana patients and providers have long advocated. First, they demonstrate the efficacy of ensuring that well-regulated dispensaries are available to meet the needs of eligible patients. Such facilities establish high levels of accountability in how cannabis products are dispensed and replace previous distribution models that operated outside of regulatory oversight.
In a broader sense, there is likely additional value in promoting a more complete public understanding of how marijuana works and when its use is appropriate. As the public dialogue surrounding medical marijuana makes factual information more available, we may find that young people are empowered to make better choices in their own lives. With time, we expect ever stronger data to draw upon as we work to promote the parallel goals of patient access and public health.