teens and cannabis

Several years ago, opponents of cannabis and teens predicted crime rates and corrupted youth would skyrocket with the introduction of storefronts in communities. Researchers have now had several years of data to examine, and it turns out cannabis legalization hasn’t endangered American neighborhoods. 

A study in the June issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse interviewed 329 young adults ages 18-26 and determined that the “density of medical marijuana dispensaries per square mile in Los Angeles zip code areas was not associated with” how often people smoked marijuana. The authors believe “the arrival of new marijuana dispensaries into neighborhoods, and subsequent concentration of dispensaries in particular locations will not impact use.”  State marijuana laws for minors continue to evolve. 

The rate of teen cannabis consumption hasn’t increased from legalization either. This month researchers at Colorado State University published findings examining the effect of community dispensary presence on students. The authors compared Colorado high schoolers in pre-legalization 2013 to those in 2015: “Based on the 2013 and 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data, permitting or not permitting recreational cannabis dispensaries in a community does not appear to change student cannabis use or perceptions towards cannabis.” 

These findings were backed up by the 2019 dissertation of a doctoral student at the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health. Catherine Branson examined the impact of city dispensary bans on high school students: “Neither dispensary bans nor the number of dispensaries in a city were associated with student marijuana use in cross-sectional analyses comparing the prevalence of student marijuana use across 57 cities in L.A. County [during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years].”

Students, who acquire cannabis through the black market in legal weed states regardless of state legalization, may be unaffected by the presence of dispensaries in their communities thanks to youth programs funded by marijuana tax revenue like Denver’s High Costs. More likely, teens in the digital age of pharmaceutical pain pills, anxiety medications, and stimulants choose cannabis based on their personal preference. Efforts to minimize youth substance abuse are vital but fear-mongering just isn’t the way to do it in a world where every child has Google at their fingertips. 

Students rely on the black market, not only for their party drugs but also study drugs. Between 10% and 30% of students are taking black-market medications to get through school, but we rarely hear public health watchdogs calling for the banning of physicians’ offices in communities, despite the fact that they prescribe both Oxycontin and Adderall at record numbers without knowledge of their long-term consequences. In the case of cannabis, we have thousands of years of evidence that even life-long use is relatively safe. 

1 in 5 teens uses marijuana, while 1 in 3 drinks alcohol regularly according to CDC statistics. Alcohol consumption is down since marijuana legalization gained momentum. An annual national survey of 50,000 adolescents and young adults by Monitoring the Future found the percentage of college students who drink alcohol daily fell from 4.3% in 2016 to 2.2% in 2017, a drop of more than four percentage points from 6.5% in 1980. 

“I definitely enjoy weed better. It’s more relaxing [than alcohol], I don’t have to worry about how I acted the night before, and don’t have to deal with hangovers or having to throw up the morning after,” says Jena, a 27-year-old business-operations employee based in Chicago where recreational cannabis just became legal, in an interview with Marketwatch. 

These emerging studies looking at the sociological effects of legal cannabis suggest it has its place in society as a medicine, a wellness supplement, and a vice. Hopefully, advocates for public health will focus on education and rehabilitation rather than prolonging prohibition as we move forward so cannabis legislation can change. The sooner marijuana gains social acceptance the sooner our academic community can compile the research truly needed to understand marijuana’s potential.  Cannabis and teens is a minor problem in the grand scheme of things. 



Branson, and Catherine Moreno. “The Impact of City Bans on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries on Marijuana Use Among High School Students in Los Angeles County, California.” EScholarship, University of California, 6 June 2019, beta.escholarship.org/uc/item/2jm249z3#main.

“CDC – Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking – Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm.

“Density of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Current Marijuana Use among Young Adult Marijuana Users in Los Angeles.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10826084.2019.1618332.

Doheny, Kathleen. “CBD as a Superbug Antibiotic?” WebMD, WebMD, 24 June 2019, www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20190624/cbd-as-a-superbug-antibiotic.

Lawson, Kimberly. “Living Near Dispensaries Doesn’t Affect Teen Marijuana Use Or Attitudes, Study Finds.” Marijuana Moment, 17 June 2019, www.marijuanamoment.net/living-near-dispensaries-doesnt-affect-teen-marijuana-use-or-attitudes-study-finds/.

Lawson, Kimberly. “Three New Studies Explore Link Between Medical Marijuana Dispensaries And Youth Use.” Marijuana Moment, 19 June 2019, www.marijuanamoment.net/three-new-studies-explore-link-between-medical-marijuana-dispensaries-and-youth-use/.

Paul, Kari. “Why Millennials Prefer Cannabis to Booze: ‘Zero Enjoyment out of Drinking’.” MarketWatch, 20 Apr. 2019, www.marketwatch.com/story/millennials-appear-to-like-cannabis-more-than-booze-2018-09-26.


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