Impact of Marijuana Laws on Adults and Teens

Impact of marijuana laws measured by University of Texas and Denver Office of Drug Strategy Researchers


How has marijuana legislation affected public health and law enforcement? A new analysis might have some answers.

Recent marijuana laws have resulted in an increase in use by adults, and while teenagers do have a more relaxed attitude about the plant, pot use among teens has decreased, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin and the Denver Office of Drug Strategy (DODS) in Colorado.

The increase in use among adults started before marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington State in 2012. While teenagers consumed marijuana at a rate of around 15 percent nationally in 2002, in 2013, the rate declined to about 13 percent. In California, Colorado and Washington, teenagers also decreased use in the past decade by about one percent.

"Prevalence of use by youths has not increased as originally anticipated, but the decreases in attitudes that the drug is harmful may result in increased use in the future," study authors Jane Maxwell, professor in the School of Social Work at UT Austin and Bruce Mendelson, a senior data consultant for the DODS, said in the study.

Among adults aged 18 to 25, marijuana use increased from about 28 percent to 34 percent in California, 37 to 42 percent in Colorado and 36 to 37 percent in Washington during the same time frame. Among older adults, the rate of use nationally over the same decade increased from about seven to nine percent.

Recent marijuana legislation has also lead to a decrease in arrests and admittance into treatment programs. However, marijuana-related emergency hospital visits and calls to poison control centers have increased.

According to the study's authors, higher potency, combined with a lack of uniform standards and labeling on marijuana products, could be harmful to those using marijuana for medical purposes and others who are at risk for side effects of marijuana, like psychosis or depression. There are currently two synthetic drugs with ingredients similar to those in the plant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Mendelson and Maxwell also discovered possible over prescribing of marijuana and inconsistencies in how medical conditions are qualified for medical marijuana use both within a state and between states.

Mendelson and Maxwell said their analysis should spur further research about how marijuana is affecting public health as it becomes increasingly normalized and legalized.

"Legalization of marijuana is not simply a yes-versus-no choice," the study authors said. "It includes the kinds of organizations that can provide the drug, the regulations under which they operate, the nature of the products that can be distributed, and the price."

Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, while 15 others have decriminalized possession of non-medical marijuana, meaning those caught with small amounts will not be jailed or acquire criminal records. Medical marijuana is legal in twenty-three states.

This study was published Feb. 3 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

No funding sources and disclosures were declared.