Some say that decriminalizing cannabis may lead to an uptick in young people abusing the substance. Countering this fear, however, is an increasing body of research comparing substance use and abuse by teenagers before and after efforts for decriminalization and legalization.
Since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington in 2012, multiple studies have been conducted to measure differences in usage habits- particularly those in teenagers. And so far, data has consistently found that lifetime use of cannabis by young people has fallen all over the US since then.
One study by the US Centers for Disease Control, for example, examined youth substance use trends between 2009 and 2019 among high school students. While lifetime use of cannabis increased between 2009 and 2013 among this age group, it decreased between 2013 and 2019.
Another study published last year showed that rates of youth cannabis consumption declined in states where the substance had been legalized for adults. In particular, it found that recreational cannabis laws correlated with an 8% decrease in general cannabis use among teenagers and a 9% decline in frequent cannabis use among the same age group.
Although some may say that the decriminalization of cannabis could normalize, and thus increase, usage of the substance, existing research shows that the resulting regulation may have instead better-controlled its usage. After all, more regulation means greater oversight on the quality of the substance and who can receive it, while creating a space for better education and support on how to use it.
"The establishment of a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults but restricts and discourages its use among young people best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or abuse." writes Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in The Hill.
"By contrast, advocating for marijuana's continued criminalization only compounds them."