May 19, 2016 9:15 AM

Marijuana Legalization Does Not Affect Teens’ Exposure to Drugs

The legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington state caused concerns about the use of the plant among adolescents. It was believed that the enactment of this law can increase underage access to weed.

Surprisingly, it is reported that the drug's accessibility remained at the same level. According to the recent health study in Washington state, the percentage of teens who report that purchasing marijuana is easy for them has not changed since 2010—55 percent in 2010 and 54 percent in 2014. This study was presented in Baltimore at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting on May 1, 2016.

It is a great relief that the illegal use of marijuana among teens has not grown because of the legalization of recreational weed for adults. It means that one of the reasons that are regularly used against legalization of cannabis in other states turned out to be invalid.

However, the same Healthy Youth Survey that eased the concerns of the state’s citizens also studied the adolescents’ access to alcohol, cigarettes, and such illicit drugs as amphetamine, cocaine, and LSD. Unlike the numbers concerning marijuana use, the data for other substances changed significantly. According to the survey, teens perceive marijuana as easier accessed than other substances. Let us look at the numbers—47 percent of adolescents report that it is hard to access alcohol in 2014 in comparison to 43 percent in 2010; illegal drugs show such numbers as 82 percent in 2014 and 75 percent in 2010. As we can see, there is a substantial difference in the effectiveness of current public health efforts concerning adolescents’ use of marijuana and other illegal products.

While it is reassuring that it is not easier for teens to obtain marijuana since the law was enacted, the results could be a lot better. Andrew Adesman, a chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York expresses his concern about teens being able to illegally buy weed one or another way. Just like with other drugs on the list, four years should have made it harder to buy marijuana. In comparison, a similar survey was conducted in Colorado and showed the decline in the use of marijuana among teens. Washington state has to put a great deal of effort to change the situation.

Principal investigator Natalie Colaneri sides with Adesman and hopes that these results will lead to an increase in efforts to reduce the use of marijuana among adolescents. It is important that all states that have already legalized cannabis or just plan to do it understand the necessity to control and minimize the ability of teenagers to access marijuana. Considering the detrimental health effects of the uncontrolled use of marijuana among teens, implementation of appropriate measures is necessary.

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