As cannabis dispensaries have sprung up in legal states all around the USA, there has been little analysis of their impact on the demographics of cannabis usage. In particular there have been concerns that proximity and ease of access to cannabis might increase uptake of the drug by young people.
To investigate this topic, a team from the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank based in Santa Monica, California, devised a study in which 604 18-23 year olds living in Los Angeles county were asked how likely they were to use cannabis, electronic cigarettes, or a combination of cannabis and tobacco/nicotine over the following six months. The team then compared these answers with the density of legal cannabis dispensaries in the local area to see if there were correlations.
The results found that after adjusting for individual and neighborhood-level characteristics, living near a medicinal or recreational cannabis outlet was “not significantly associated with intentions to use.”
However the overall results disguised some interesting findings among subgroup populations. For young white adults specifically, being surrounded by more cannabis outlets, especially recreational cannabis retailers (within five miles) was significantly associated with stronger intentions of using cannabis and tobacco/nicotine together.
Higher density of medical cannabis dispensaries was marginally associated with stronger cannabis/tobacco co-use intentions among Asian young adults. Meanwhile, higher medical cannabis dispensary density was significantly associated with lower intentions to use e-cigarettes among Hispanic young adults.
These are only correlations and it would be wrong to read too much into them, but the researchers note that this was a first-of-its-kind study, and a valuable initial probe into the impact of cannabis outlets on substance use.
The authors of the report say it would be valuable in future to study whether those who had previously used tobacco/nicotine or cannabis were more strongly influenced by an increasing density of recreational and medicinal cannabis outlets.