Researchers have concluded in a study published last year, that states who have legalised cannabis for recreational or medical use did not have an increase in youth consumption. The well-respected Journal of the American Medical Association published the “Youth Risk Behaviour Study” which captures data from 1993-2019 in 10 states that have legalised cannabis for recreational or medical use.
Researchers looked at the rates of youth cannabis use in these states finding that the policy change had a "statistically indistinguishable from zero" effect on youth consumption. Instead, the research reveals that changes in the legal environment actually cause a decline in youth cannabis consumption. They reached the conclusion that cannabis legalisation was not linked to recent or regular cannabis use, instead in states where legalisation has taken place youth consumption has decreased.
This study is one of many that have been released over the last number of years that confirm a regulatory change to a legal market does not increase youth consumption. In 2021 a US National Institute on Drug Abuse study found a significant decrease in youth consumption rates, in some age categories the decrease was as large as 10%, saying “these findings represent the largest one-year decrease in overall illicit drug use reported since the survey began in 1975”.
This trend is not isolated to the US. Canada legalised recreational cannabis in 2018 with decision-makers emphasising the protection of youth and the need to reduce youth consumption as one of their main goals. A study has shown no significant differences in the trends of cannabis use post-legalisation.
An increase in youth consumption of cannabis is frequently mentioned as one of the key issues in a legalised market by anti-cannabis campaigners. This finding directly conflicts with these arguments. This result is unsurprising to proponents who have long argued that allowing sales in a controlled setting will reduce youth access and compete with the black market. The results of this study can seem like common sense to many. In a legalised market cannabis businesses are required to check ID’s to ensure the consumer is permitted to purchase the product. These simple protections are not extended to an illegal market. As advocates have been saying for many years “Drug dealers do not ask for ID”. Creating barriers to youth consumption is a goal that many people on both sides of this argument would agree with, these can only be established in a legal and regulated market.