When the citizens of Washington State were debating whether or not to legalize cannabis back in 2012, one chief argument against decriminalization was that it would lead to an increase in teens using marijuana.
Adolescent Brain Development
This is no small concern: numerous studies and reports show that adolescence is a critical stage in brain development, and most clinicians strongly recommended that teens abstain from cannabis in all forms. That said, some research suggests the dangers of cannabis use by teens are overblown.
Whatever the risks, it’s also a time when peer pressure—and possibly the impulse towards risk-taking—are both heightened, making this stage of life potentially fraught with anxiety —particularly from a parent’s perspective.
Teens Using Marijuana – The Findings
So it should come as a relief that, at least for the moment, cannabis legalization in Washington State hasn’t led to a noticeable increase in its use by teenagers. Some skeptics warn that, as cannabis prices continue to drop and its use becomes broader, more adolescents will be drawn towards it, much as they were towards cigarettes in decades past.
That said, the trends in tobacco use may be a positive indicator: As of 2016, rates of cigarette use teenagers were at historic lows.
What’s more, the lack of a notable uptick in teen cannabis use isn’t confined to Washington. Colorado, which voted to decriminalize cannabis in the same timeframe as Washington, actually experienced a significant drop in adolescent use, while adult use rose. This bolsters the argument of many supporters of legal cannabis, who feel it should be subject to the same market forces as are other recreational intoxicants like alcohol.
Cannabis Regulation Safeguards Teens
Our photogenic next-door neighbor, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, laid out a simple and clear argument for such a paradigm, saying essentially that the control and regulation explicit in the marketplace makes it far safer for teens than leaving it to criminals, who have no incentive to limit access to their wares.
At this early juncture in cannabis legalization, it may be too premature to make a definitive call as to whether or not it will lead to increased or decreased future use among adolescents. But at least for now, there are many signs that decriminalization is helping teens not only to stay away from cannabis until they’re of age. But also leading to fewer problems associated with trends such as fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. And whether you’re for or against cannabis, no doubt, we can all agree that fewer of these problems is a good thing. Thankfully, under “smart regulation,” we seem to manage potential issues effectively.