Do Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Use in Teens?


It’s an important question because one of the objections to deregulation is that increased availability will increase marijuana use among teens. In effect, approving marijuana as medicine will tend to remove some of the “fear factor” and make it more attractive in the same way that prescription drug abuse is seen as a safer alternative to street drugs among teens. Coupled with making it easier to get, opponents felt that teen marijuana use would spike upwards in states where medical marijuana legislation was passed.

The jury is still out with several studies showing the question isn’t so easily answered. A report about a recent study even seems to show that marijuana use falls when it is legalized for medical use.

Why it’s hard to measure

One of the problems with studies that only look at the percentage of teens using marijuana is that they show higher use in states where marijuana was already more popular before legalization. So, for example, California had a higher use of marijuana than the national average before they made medical marijuana legal. They still have a high rate of use among teens, but comparing trends seems to show use hasn’t jumped up after the legislation was passed.

The short answer is that if use is trending upward, it can increase and still not show an effect from legalization. If marijuana is popular in a state, that state is more likely to have enough votes to pass medical marijuana laws.

This same problem means that claiming use has fallen because of legalization is hard to support. Usage can fall for any of a number of reasons, for example, if the price goes up or availability goes down. Selling weed to the legal market means you aren’t selling that same product to teenagers.

Who wins the argument?

Although the issue will still be debated, and there will be those that use the argument of access to fight against legalization. But even if marijuana use doesn’t fall among teens when medical marijuana laws are passed, as long as usage doesn’t go up, the pro-marijuana camp wins. After all, they only need to show no effect to beat that part of the argument.


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