One of the most common arguments used against legalising cannabis is that it would make it easier to access for children.

A new study from America, however, has found that legalising recreational cannabis actually leads to a decline in use among teenagers, offering a serious challenge to the prohibition on cannabis.

Researchers at the Montana State University studied data from annual national Youth Risk Behaviour Surveys from 1993 through to 2017, using data from over 1.4 million high school students across America.

The researchers focused on self-reported cannabis use in the surveys among the students, as well as survey responses in areas where medical or recreational marijuana was legalised.

The researchers examined the responses before and after the medical ad recreational cannabis laws were enacted.

After analysing the data, the researchers found that while teenage use of cannabis is not impacted by medical cannabis laws, there is a notable drop in use following the legalisation of recreational cannabis.

The researchers found that legalisation of recreational cannabis is associated with an 8% decrease in the odds of cannabis use, and a 9% drop in the odds of frequent cannabis use (defined as at least 10 times in the past 30 days).

The results suggest that the best way to prevent teenagers from accessing cannabis is to legalise and regulate it, in a similar way to alcohol and tobacco; a stark contrast from the current policy employed by the majority of Governments across the world.

Mark Anderson, lead author of the study, suggested that the drop in use among teenagers is because regulation, where ID is required for purchase, makes it harder for teens to buy cannabis from licensed retailers.

In countries and states where cannabis is illegal, it is much easier for underage users to access, as the only ‘proof of age’ they need to buy from their street dealer is cash.

Discussing the results of the study with CNN, Anderson said:

“Just to be clear we found no effect on teen use following legalization for medical purposes, but evidence of a possible reduction in use following legalization for recreational purpose.

“Because our study is based on more policy variation than prior work, we view our estimates as the most credible to date in the literature.”

Just to be clear we found no effect on teen use following legalization for medical purposes, but evidence of a possible reduction in use following legalization for recreational purpose.
– Mark Anderson, lead author of study

Anderson did acknowledge his study’s limitations:

”Because many recreational marijuana laws have been passed so recently, we do observe limited post-treatment data for some of these states.

”In a few years, it would make sense to update our estimates as more data become available.“

This isn’t the first study to find evidence that legalising cannabis for recreational use is the most effective measure against teenage use.

The RAND Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank, conducted a similar study in 2012 to investigate the impact of legalising recreational cannabis on teens in Washington.

The study also found that cannabis use among teens dropped after the state legalised the drug. Use among students in the eighth grade dropped from 9.8 to 7.3% between 2014-2016, while use among 10th graders fell from 19.8 to 17.8%.

With more research comes more understanding, and with a greater understanding comes greater policies which offer more benefit to society.

We already have research suggesting that tough laws on cannabis in the UK do not prevent teenagers from using the drug.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Kent found that there is “no evidence that strict policies actually deter young people from using cannabis.”

If the British Government truly wants to prevent teenagers from using cannabis, it would be prudent to consider taking onboard evidence from these recent studies, rather than peddling Reefer Madness-era propaganda.

References and further Reading