Prevention & Education

An employee at the medical marijuana dispensary Kaya Shack displays different types of marijuana flowers sold at the shop in Portland, Ore. (Gosia Wozniacka / AP)
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FIU study: Teens use pot more when medical marijuana is legal

Jul 16, 2015


Sun Sentinel -   If Florida legalizes medical marijuana, it could lead to increased pot use by youths, a Florida International University study suggests.

It's happened in other states that have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used to treat pain, nausea, vomiting and other medical conditions, according to research led by Lisa Stolzenberg, an FIU professor of criminal justice.
During 2010-11, the most recent year in the study, 9.7 percent of high school students reported using pot in states that had legalized medical marijuana, compared to 6.8 percent in states that outlawed it. And the survey showed that pot use among youth in states that legalized it has risen since 2004 and has consistently been higher than in states where it's illegal.
"Well-meaning social policy often has unintended and detrimental effects for society," Stolzenberg said. "I think recreational use among juveniles increased because the law helped reduce the stigma associated with marijuana use and because juveniles probably have more access to marijuana in states where doctors are prescribing it to their parents."
The results were published in a recent issue of International Journal of Drug Policy, an academic publication.
Despite her findings, Stolzenberg said she supports legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
"I do not believe that cancer patients should be denied access to a drug that could help them. Likewise, I also believe that adults should have the freedom to use marijuana," she said. "Our results do not suggest that an increase in marijuana use is necessarily harmful or that prohibiting it outweighs the benefits to cancer patients and the state economy. It is up to parents and the school system to educate youth on the potential hazards associated with the use of drugs."
Right now, 19 states allow medical marijuana, while an additional four states and the District of Columbia permit recreational use. Sixteen states allowed it during the 10-year period that Stolzenberg studied.
Last year, 58 percent of Florida voters supported a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana, but that was shy of the 60 percent needed to pass a constitutional amendment. Supporters plan to bring it back in 2016.
Alexa Lee, director of programs for the Palm Beach County Substance Abuse Coalition, said the results of the FIU study don't surprise her.
"Any time you have more access to a drug, the youth usage rate will be higher," she said. "There are some states in the north where you can only buy alcohol from state-licensed facilities, and many of those have lower instances of underage drinking than states where there is more availability."
Ben Pollara, of the Miami-based United for Care pro-legalization campaign, questions the study's conclusions.
He pointed to a study released last month, led by a researcher at Columbia University in New York, that found that while teen marijuana use was higher in states that legalized medical pot, this was the case before pot was legal, and usage hadn't increased.
Stolzenberg acknowledged in her report that other studies have found different results, but she said some others have used small, non-representative samples. She said her data uses a nationally representative sample from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is administered in all 50 states.

“If you choose to consume, please do so responsibly.”

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