Legalizing Medical Marijuana Doesn’t Prompt Teens To Start Using It, New Research Suggests

People standing in line to get into a pot shop that has started selling marijuana for recreational use under the new California marijuana law.
David McNew / Stringer / Getty Images

Legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t increase recreational use of the substance among teens, according to a new study carried out by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

For years, people have been debating the issue of legalization of marijuana for medicinal use. The proponents of marijuana legalization contend that such laws would help reduce the number of deaths due to overdosing of the substance in adults. However, the opponents argue that legalizing cannabis may prompt teens to use it for recreational purpose.

Now, findings of two new studies suggest that these are just myths, and legalizing this substance neither prompts teens to use it for recreational purpose nor reduces the instances of opioid overdose in adults.

“For now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens’ use of the drug,” explained Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the lead author of one of the two studies.

California was the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, according to CBS News. Today, 29 states in the country have enacted laws to legalize cannabis.

However, the Columbia University study found that these laws had almost no impact on the rate of marijuana use (for a recreational purpose) among youths.

In this study, the researchers carried out an analysis of 11 previous studies conducted from 1991 to 2014 investigating the use of marijuana among adolescents. The researchers investigated the changes in pot use trends during months (before and after) when new marijuana laws were enacted in different states in the U.S. This data was then compared with the data of those states where marijuana was not legalized. The detailed analysis revealed that teens’ usage of marijuana did not change in those states where the substance was legalized.

A separate study carried out by an international team of American, British, and Australian researchers found little evidence to suggest that legalization of medical marijuana leads to any significant decrease in the number of deaths due to opioid overdose.

Wayne Hall, the lead author of the second study and a professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, warns that it would be too early to recommend legalization of medical marijuana as a policy to cut overdose risks in Canada and the U.S.

The Columbia University researchers also warn that while their study didn’t find any significant changes in teens’ use of marijuana after its legalization, more studies are needed to investigate any other possible impact of legalizing cannabis, for example, any changes in drug dosage among adults who use it on a daily basis.

The detailed findings of the two studies were published in the journal Addiction.