Keeping Youth Drug Use Down in States Where Marijuana is Legal

John Fournier

This past year, Connecticut joined a growing list of states that have legalized marijuana. It is likely that this year we will begin to see the establishment of cannabis retailers, and with this in mind, it is more important than ever to discuss how we keep youth substance use low. We have already learned a lot about what to expect from the experiences of other “legal” states.

For example, legal states saw a 25% increase in cannabis use disorder among 12 to 17 year old youth (Cerda et. al., 2019). When marijuana was legalized, daily use increased among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (Miech et al., 2019). Youth use in these states continues to outpace non-legal states (NSDUH State Comparisons, 2019).

Calls to Poison Control Centers for marijuana exposure increased 103.2% in Washington, 112.8% in Colorado, and 140% in Massachusetts (Washington Poison Center, 2018; Rocky Mountain HIDTA, 2019; Whitehill et al, 2019). Furthermore, in Washington, cases of marijuana exposure in children five and younger increased 176.5% (Washington Poison Center, 2018).

This data provides a starting point for conversations on what steps we might take to limit youth drug use. There are many strategies we can use, including education, local ordinances, and more. In fact, in response to some of the concerns listed above, many municipalities in legal states have outright banned retail marijuana shops and cultivators from their communities. Notably, 64% of Colorado, 79% of Michigan, and 80% of California municipalities opted out of retail marijuana sales entirely (Alfonsi, 2019; Colorado Department of Revenue, 2019; Smart Approaches to Marijuana, 2020). Whatever steps we take, they will be more successful if taken together as a community. Join the conversation!

January 24, 2022