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Marijuana Legalization Linked to Decline in Youth Drug Treatment Admissions

Marijuana Less Youth Drug Admissions

As marijuana legalization continues to expand across the country, scientists are interested in tracking how legalization influences adolescents.

Researchers from Temple University sought to find out how recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado influenced adolescent treatment admissions for cannabis. According to their findings published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, legalization was associated with a decrease in admissions for marijuana use among adolescents aged 12-17!

Cannabis Use Disorder Rates in Legalized States

Over the past two decades, legal access to marijuana across the United States has been steadily increasing. What began as medical access in certain states has quickly expanded to become medical access in most states and recreational legalization in many. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis use in 2012.

Researchers Jeremy Mennis and Gerald J. Stahler gathered data on youth admissions for cannabis use disorder in Colorado and Washington from 2008 to 2017 and compared it to that of youth admissions in states where recreational marijuana remains illegal. What they found was a decrease in youth treatment admissions for cannabis across the United States, with an even greater decrease in Colorado and Washington.

Over all states in the analysis, the rate of adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use declined significantly over the study period, with the mean rate falling nearly in half. The decline in admissions rate was greater in Colorado and Washington compared to non-RML (recreational marijuana law) states.

There are likely multiple factors that have come together to create this pattern of decreased youth marijuana treatment with increased legalization, and the researchers put forth three hypotheses.

Why Are Less Teens Treated for Cannabis Use Disorder in Legalized States?

1. The first possible explanation is that increased adult access to legal marijuana has not led to an increase in youth use.

A study published in 2020 in the Journal of Adolescent Health that examined youth cannabis use from 1999 to 2017 supports this hypothesis. The researchers found no evidence of increased youth use in states with legal recreational marijuana over this period. In fact, the frequency of adolescent cannabis consumption decreased by 16% following recreational legalization.

Assuming that children and teens are, in fact, using marijuana less since legalization, it would make sense that fewer adolescents require treatment for cannabis use disorder.

2. The next potential explanation that researchers postulated was that cannabis use disorder did not increase, even if cannabis use itself did.

As discussed in a review published in StatPearls, cannabis use disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as marijuana use that results in “psychological patterns classified under impaired control, social impairment, risky behavior, or physiological adaptation.” Not all youth who experiment with marijuana are going to develop symptoms associated with cannabis use disorder.

3. This hypothesis ties into the next, which is that treatment-seeking behaviors changed due to shifts in attitudes and perceptions of risk toward marijuana use. As marijuana has gained legal status, the stigma of cannabis use has decreased.

According to an earlier study, also published by Drug and Alcohol Dependence, that examined the potential reasons for the decreased prevalence in cannabis use disorder over the past two decades, increased legalization may also be associated with changes in social attitudes resulting in fewer conflicts with relatives and friends around cannabis use.

What the experts are pointing to is a change in how people in the United States perceive marijuana and the potential dangers associated with cannabis use. As the public learns more about the benefits of marijuana, and as its use becomes less stigmatized, people may be less likely to view adolescent use as a disorder that needs treatment.


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Author Bio


  1. Living in FL, we’re only offered ‘medical’ marijuana (MM), since Florida hasn’t yet seen the light of full legalization. The program is breathtaking in it’s greed and hypocrisy. The right-wing republicans who ‘own’ this state, along with their lackey participating physicians, are getting obscenely rich through the financial rape of those who could benefit from cannabis.

    Initially, one must cough up $200 to the ‘prescribing’ doctor (at least my family doctor), continuing the thievery by demanding $100 every 6 months. The state requires $75 to grant a MM card that must also be renewed each and every year. All of this, on top of the outrageous price of the drug itself, puts MM out of reach for people like me with limited economic means. Those career politicians who establish the parameters of MM must say to themselves “We really don’t want to allow these peasants to use this stuff, but because the populace voted otherwise, we’ll get rich on their backs instead.” Disgusting greed; obnoxious selfishness, with no regard for the welfare of others, is coupled with the craving for power thrown in for good measure.

    This economic ‘land grab’ is accompanied by hypocrisy of the highest (or in this case, lowest) form. The physicians and career politicians talk out of both sides of their mouths when decrying the evils of opioid narcotic pain medication while penalizing those who need to ease whatever medical conditions are present. One would think that if they really wanted to stem the tides of addiction and overdose they would be all too eager to make the MM alternative simple and cheap. But, not surprisingly, they do whatever they can to take advantage of their respective positions of power.

    Medical marijuana should be administered like any other prescription. I can get a narcotic drug prescription for 30 days at a little under $20. All told, the cost for MM will be more than 10 times that amount. If those who set the laws and programs in the state of Florida were really honest about providing a safer, healthier alternative to narcotics, they should be more than eager to make it both financially and programmatically easy for those wanting to remove narcotic analgesics from their various medical needs.

    All told, this entire picture only serves to strengthen the stereotypes that have been established regarding career politicians, and their unethical behavior at the expense of others to maintain their reservoirs of power and materialism. Thank you for the opportunity to vent my frustration – I know I’m not alone.

    Most sincerely,

    Michael DuPuis

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