With the legalization of marijuana for medical use, some feared that medical marijuana would naturally fall into the hands of teens. New data is showing that medical marijuana is not increasing teen drug use.
Medical marijuana, like any prescription, could be potentially abused. People with prescriptions could possibly sell medical marijuana to teens or other individuals, getting around current laws and making it easier for some to gain access to the drug. With several states legalizing medical marijuana since 1993, this could be a cause for concern for teen drug use. In the new study, while marijuana use has increased since 2005, medical marijuana was not linked to increased use in high school students.
The study was led by Daniel I. Rees, PhD, from the University of Colorado Denver, Benjamin Hansen, PhD, from the University of Oregon and D. Mark Anderson, PhD, from Montana State University. The researchers looked at nationally representative data collected from the Youth Risky Behavior Survey (YRBS) between 1993 and 2009.
Marijuana use among teens is a hot topic due to its increased used in recent years. Researchers cite the "Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use" report that is conducted annually by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. The survey was conducted among high school students across the country totaling 46,700 students in 400 high schools. Nearly one in 15 high school seniors smoke marijuana on near-daily levels according to the report released in 2011.
Since 1996, 17 states and the District of Columbia have made medical marijuana legal. Between the years of the YRBS study used by researchers, 13 states legalized medical marijuana including California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Alaska and Oregon.
According to researchers, many federal officials are looking to close medical dispensaries because they feel medical marijuana is leading to the increase in drug use among teens. Legalization of medical marijuana or dispensaries near schools could be encouraging students to use the drug.
The researchers, looking at marijuana use at school, students being offered drugs on school property, alcohol use and cocaine use, could not find any link between legalization of medical marijuana with increased use in teens.
According to the researchers, marijuana use in some cases declined with the legalization of medical marijuana in certain states. The researchers also note that very few minors are approved for medical marijuana use. The researchers also found no evidence that marijuana served as a gateway drug for alcohol use or cocaine use among teens.
With more states debating the legalization of medical marijuana, understanding how this legislative act affects crime as well as drug use in adults and teens is important. A previous study focusing on Sacramento indicated that medical marijuana dispensaries did not increase crime rates.
The study was published as a working paper in the Institute for the Study of Labor and should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.