Will teens smoke more pot when it’s legal? They didn’t in this U.S. state

As legalization looms, some are concerned about the potential rise of marijuana usage among youth. Getty Images

When U.S. states started to legalize recreational pot a few years ago, one question made many people uneasy — with marijuana so easy to come by, would teens and preteens smoke (or vape, or eat) more of it?

Heavy marijuana use isn’t good for the developing brain, scientists warn. Adolescent rats given marijuana extract showed changes to their brain structure (adult rats given the extract were fine). The more pot is consumed by teenagers, and the younger the age it’s consumed at, the worse the effects on the brain are, when measured in adulthood.

As legalization looms in Canada, similar fears have emerged.

“To mitigate harms between the ages of 18 and 25, a period of continued brain development, governments should do all that they can to discourage and delay cannabis use,” the Liberals’ commission on marijuana legalization wrote in its report last fall.

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Last fall, the Canadian Medical Association argued that the minimum age to buy legal pot should ideally be 25, though they conceded that 21 would be more realistic, and that too high a minimum age would leave the existing black market in place.

READ: Make 21 the minimum age to smoke pot, Canadian Medical Association urges gov’t

That may all be true — but the good news is that legalization doesn’t seem to make the problem worse.

New American survey data shows that legalization doesn’t have any effect on how much pot teenagers consume.

Between 2014 — when legal marijuana began to be available in Washington state — and 2016, regular use actually fell among teens and pre-teens there, newly released data shows.

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Washington’s Healthy Youth Survey polled nearly a quarter of a million teens and pre-teens across the state. Washington’s voters approved legalization in a 2012 ballot question, and a legal retail system for marijuana started two years later.

The data echoes a similar survey that showed that teen marijuana use in Colorado wasn’t changed by legalization. Recreational pot has been sold legally in Colorado since 2014.

(Teen marijuana use isn’t legal in either state, where the minimum age to buy pot is 21.)

Teen use of drugs and alcohol has been falling in Canada and the United States for years.


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