New Studies Show the Shocking Effects Legalizing Weed Has on Teenagers

Getty Images

As marijuana becomes more and more societally acceptable, are America's teenagers turning into a mob of potheads roaming the streets, looking for Cheetos and listening to Pink Floyd?

Not exactly.

According to two studies the Washington Post reported this week, the oft-repeated warning that teen drug use will rise as the stigma associated with marijuana subsides is not quite true. In fact, to an extent, it may be the opposite of the truth.

The first study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, finds that between 1999 and 2009, the number of high schoolers who said they'd ever consumed marijuana in their lifetime fell from 47.2% to 36.8%. In the following years, reports of use began to climb again, but the rise is so slight that it's not statistically significant. The chart below, courtesy of the Washington Post, shows the steady decline in the first decade of the millennium:

Source: Washington Post
Source: Washington Post

This statistically significant data covers years before recent state experiments with recreational legalization — the first two states to legalize, Colorado and Washington, didn't do so until 2012. But that decline is still notable. As the Post notes, 34 states have passed medical marijuana policies since 1996, and many have decriminalized possession as well. 

All the while, advocacy for legalizing marijuana picked up steam, marijuana grew more salient in pop culture and popular opinion among adults — many of whom were supervising the teens whose use declined — shifted in favor of the drug. In other words, teen use decreased precisely during a rise in mainstream American culture's receptivity to marijuana.

The second study the Post highlighted suggests that teens' attitudes have remained either the same or grown more skeptical of marijuana use during this time. Between 2002 and 2013, the proportion of adolescents between 12 and 14 who reported "strong disapproval" of marijuana use rose from 74.4% to 78.9%. During the same time, teens between the ages of 15 and 17 showed no significant change in opinion. 

Source: Washington Post
Source: Washington Post

This should not be interpreted as evidence that full-fledged marijuana legalization could not increase teen use. But the fact that a culture that's rapidly warming to the drug and instituting various measures to make it less harshly punished does bode well for those who think that marijuana isn't going to cause the end of the world. 

h/t Washington Post