Young people who don’t use marijuana are becoming increasingly tolerant of their peers who do, according to a new study.
In an effort to track how patterns of consumption and attitudes toward cannabis are shifting in the age of legalization, researchers at Pennsylvania State University looked at nationally representative surveys of high school seniors from 2010 to 2016. They grouped respondents into five categories: intolerant nonusers, tolerant nonusers, disapproving users, experimenters or marijuana enthusiasts.
The study, published last week by the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that while the prevalence of consumption hasn’t changed much, attitudes toward cannabis are gradually shifting. That’s according to self-reports from students selected to participate in Monitoring the Future surveys in recent years.
Starting in 2014—two years after Colorado and Washington State fully legalized marijuana—new trends emerged. The number of seniors who said they disapproved of cannabis consumption and didn’t use it themselves (i.e. “intolerant nonusers”) dropped. And at the same time, seniors became more likely to report that while they didn’t use cannabis personally, they didn’t disapprove of those who did experiment.
In fact, the percentage of these “tolerant nonusers” doubled from 2011 to 2016, from nine percent to 18 percent.
The researchers didn’t speculate about possible factors driving this trend, but it seems to reflect broader shifts in attitudes toward cannabis that have been observed in numerous surveys. A majority of the country (62 percent) now supports marijuana legalization, for example, and 65 percent say smoking cannabis is “morally acceptable,” according to 2018 polls.
The researchers cautioned that the declining belief that using cannabis is harmful among young people “may lead to higher prevalence of marijuana use in the future.”
“Thus, research incorporating indicators of risk perception are imminent, and additional work should continue to examine shifts in all 3 constructs (i.e., behaviors, attitudes, and risk perceptions) over time.”
But while that assumption might seem to make sense in theory, numerous studies—including a recent meta-analysis of 55 separate studies—have contradicted it. Marijuana legalization does seem to cause people to perceive cannabis as less harmful, but the prevalence of youth marijuana consumption hasn’t risen in a statistically significant way after states legalize.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.