Legal Pot Doesn't Seem To Increase Teen Use or Addiction

Two studies published in November found that legalization has not been associated with increases in adolescent marijuana use or addiction.


Opponents of marijuana legalization frequently warn that it will lead to rampant cannabis consumption by teenagers. But two studies published in November found that legalization has not been associated with increases in adolescent marijuana use or addiction. In fact, there is some evidence that both decline when pot prohibition is repealed for adults.

Boston College psychologist Rebekah Levine Coley and four other researchers looked at trends in marijuana use among teenagers in 47 states, as measured by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, from 1999 to 2017. During that period, eight states and the District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana use by adults 21 or older.

"We found no evidence that [recreational legalization] was associated with increased likelihood or level of marijuana use among adolescents," Coley and her colleagues reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "Rather, among adolescents who reported any use of marijuana in the past month, the frequency of use declined by 16%."

That finding suggests shifting the supply of marijuana from black-market dealers to state-licensed retailers who enforce a minimum purchase age helps curtail adolescent access, even if legalization also increases purchases by adult relatives and acquaintances. Legalization may also reduce marijuana's "forbidden fruit" appeal to teenagers.

Coley et al.'s finding that legalization is associated with less-frequent use among adolescent cannabis consumers is consistent with the results of a study that looked at trends in addiction treatment admissions. Between 2008 and 2017, Temple University health geographer Jeremy Mennis found, the number of "adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana" per 10,000 teenagers fell by nearly half nationwide, and the downward trend was especially sharp in states that legalized recreational use for adults.

Seven of those eight states "fall into the class with the steepest level of admissions decline," Mennis reported in a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This research suggests that a precipitous national decline in adolescent treatment admissions, particularly in states legalizing recreational marijuana use, is occurring simultaneously with a period of increasing permissiveness, decreasing perception of harm, and increasing adult use, regarding marijuana."

Since most teenagers admitted to treatment for marijuana use end up there after getting into legal trouble, this decline may be partly due to changes in law enforcement practices. But a 2019 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests the admissions trend also reflects real changes in adolescent behavior. Between 2002 and 2016, according to survey data, the prevalence of "cannabis use disorder" fell by 27 percent among teenagers who used marijuana frequently.

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  1. “…this decline may be partly due to changed in law enforcement practices.” Yeah, more time murdering jaywalkers and unarmed female protestors on public property means less time harassing folks using herb since they can no longer justifiably seize assets due to pot’s new legal status.

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  2. Serious question for you. Jacob.

    I spent my teen and college years during the 1970s, when pot use among young people was at one of its peaks. All of us knew people who smoked on an almost daily basis, people who smoked occasionally, people who tried it once or twice, and those who never touched the stuff. My age cohort is now in its early 60s. If marijuana use by young people had any long-term debilitating effects, would they not have appeared by now? Are there any studies indicating that those who smoked heavily as young people developed physical or psychological problems not present among those who abstained?

    This question came to my mind when I recently heard somebody say that we supposedly “still don’t know” the effects of marijuana use on the developing minds of teenagers and young adults.

    1. I suppose we don’t know in great detail. But, as you say, pot smoking has been common enough for a long time that if it were a significant effect we would have noticed.

      1. THC is not chemically addictive.

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    2. Well, for serious, long-term use there’s going to be the repeated, mechanical irritation of the lung tissue which can lead to lung cancer.

      1. That’s long term use continuing into adulthood, and that relates to inhaling smoke, which is common to any inhaled substance including tobacco, which has always been and remains legal. What about effects unique to cannabis/THC?

        1. And tobacco is far, far worse. The irritation can cause cancers over time, but there are specific chemicals in hot cured tobacco that make it so particularly nasty.

  3. Funny thing about it is; back when people had hope that they themselves were responsible and could lead their own lives – destructive behavior wasn’t nearly the issue it is today. How many pioneers got loaded up on drugs every day?

    Not many were dumb enough to think psychedelic incompetency was a cure for their state of being. After years of tyrannical authority (unable to live) and irresponsible attitudes (erasing natural cause and effect relationships for equality utopia delusions) like using the Power to Steal what one should be *earning* now far too many are dependent on theft, drugs and government — all of which is destructive behavior.

    Individual Liberty and Justice is the only ‘cure’ to a miserable civilization; a massively exercised historical lesson costing endless amounts of bloodshed.

    1. ^agreed!

    2. People did drink an astonishing amount back then.

      1. The good old days. Where people had ‘cocktail hour’ before dinner.

    3. “Funny thing about it is; back when people had hope that they themselves were responsible and could lead their own lives – destructive behavior wasn’t nearly the issue it is today.”

      Uh, yes, it was.


      And this doesn’t even cover the previous opiate epidemics we’ve had, tobacco use, etc. People were popping laudanum and cocaine as home remedies. We’re richer now, and have more/better drugs, but the drugs have always been here.

      There is no going back. There is no maga.

      1. Uh, no, it wasn’t

        How many compulsively live-to-drink or always on drug addicts with no job, no future and no responsibility was there then versus today?

        I’m afraid both You and Zeb are trying to steer / manipulate this discussion into the land of prohibition (Anti-Liberty) in an effort to pretend that the very substance of the original comment was that the lack of Liberty and Justice is the very root cause of today’s irresponsible substance use.

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  6. I wouldn’t put much faith in the pot industry statistics. I prefer to get medical information from medical professionals.

    “Marijuana-related visits increased from 1.8 per 1,000 visits in 2009 to 4.9 in 2015. (p = < .0001) CONCLUSIONS: Despite national survey data suggesting no appreciable difference in adolescent marijuana use, our data demonstrate a significant increase in adolescent marijuana-associated emergency department and urgent cares visits in Colorado.”


    1. I’d guess most of those people got some too strong edibles. What they should have done is turn off the lights and put on some relaxing music.

    2. I agree. I don’t believe the statistics from this study either. There are two parts to the headline: increased use and debilitating effects/addiction.

      I’ll leave the latter alone, but given the prevalence of marijuana I know see (I live in a legal state), I find it hard to believe that the above-board availability hasn’t led to an increase among adolescents. Is it significant? Does it mean anything? Is there a legislative response? Not necessarily.

    3. In addition to what Zeb suggested, now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, teens may be less reluctant to go to the ER when there’s a problem now. That doesn’t necessarily mean a larger percentage of them are using it than before. It may just mean that a larger percentage of them are going to the ER.

      1. Plus, everyone is turning into pussies now.

  7. Not too suprising. Seems like teens who wanted to smoke pot were already doing so.

    1. Yeah, ultimately, teens drink alcohol and consume cannabis for all sorts of reasons, and the real solution to that has to do with good parenting. The criminal justice system is a shitty substitute for good parenting.

  8. “That finding suggests shifting the supply of marijuana from black-market dealers to state-licensed retailers who enforce a minimum purchase age helps curtail adolescent access, even if legalization also increases purchases by adult relatives and acquaintances.”

    This is to be expected, as plenty of teens’ efforts to obtain alcohol are frustrated the same way. This isn’t to say that, as libertarians, we should favor state licensing. It just means that as intellectually honest people, we account for the facts even when they don’t fit our preferred narrative out of the box. We can still oppose licensing on other grounds–living in a freer society has qualitative benefits that don’t necessarily show up in the statistics, and opposing licensing for those qualitative reasons is perfectly rational, honest, persuasive, and legitimately libertarian.

    If Hitler made the trains run on time, there’s no good reason to pretend he didn’t. We can find other reasons to oppose Hitler–even if he did make the trains run on time. Hell, making the trains run on time may have been a prelude to the holocaust.

    Willful dishonesty about the facts is unnecessary for libertarian capitalists because reality has a libertarian and capitalist bias. It’s the authoritarians, the socialists, and the progressives who need to lie about the facts and depend on the stupidity of those who listen to them. All we need to do is to persuade people to see the world as it really is, and ask questions like, “How fair is it if adults need to ask the government for permission to sell things to each other?”

  9. Legal Pot Doesn’t Seem To Increase Teen Use or Addiction

    Because teens don’t want to be just like their parents.

    1. Yes, the easiest way to make something uncool for a teen is for the parents to do it in front of them. Especially when their friends are around.

  10. illegal weed never stopped anybody either

    1. It ended a lot of diets early.

  11. The N. S. Sherlock Institute for the Blindingly Obvious would like to point out that legal weed is not rebellious.

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