The kids are alright: According to a new study, living in a community with a recreational marijuana dispensary does not appear to influence area high schoolers’ use of cannabis or their attitudes toward it.
When Colorado legalized cannabis for adult use, local governments were given the authority to decide whether or not they wanted to permit marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions. One of the arguments against them, according to opponents, is that the greater accessibility would encourage use among teens.
Previous research has found evidence to suggest the rate of young people using cannabis has not increased after legalization. That may be due in part to targeted local youth prevention programs funded by marijuana tax revenue, such as Denver’s High Costs campaign.
Researchers at Colorado State University – Pueblo took their work a step further to investigate not only whether reported student cannabis use has increased, but also whether or not having a dispensary in a community affected their opinions of marijuana. The findings were published in the Journal of Cannabis Research this month.
For their research, the authors compared cross-sectional data taken from south-central Colorado high schoolers in 2013, before commercial legalization went into effect, and subsequent data from 2015.
“Based on the 2013 and 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data,” the study states, “permitting or not permitting recreational cannabis dispensaries in a community does not appear to change student cannabis use or perceptions towards cannabis.”
Three of the seven communities researchers focused on opened recreational marijuana dispensaries in 2014, and they collected survey responses from a sample of students attending 12 area high schools in total.
Specifically, the study analyzed students’ responses to four questions:
- “During the past 30 days, how many times did you use marijuana?”
- “If you wanted to get some marijuana, how easy would it be for you to get some?”
- “How much do you think people risk harming themselves (physically or in other ways), if they use marijuana regularly?”
- “How wrong do you think it is for someone your age to use marijuana?”
Ultimately, researchers found that students’ use of cannabis and their perceptions of how harmful it may or may not be were consistent regardless of whether or not a recreational dispensary opened nearby.
Comparing data from before legal dispensaries were allowed and after legalization’s full implementation, the researchers concluded that “in both 2013 and 2015, students in communities that permitted recreational dispensaries used more cannabis, thought cannabis was less harmful, less wrong, and was more difficult to access than high school students in communities that did not permit recreational cannabis dispensaries.”
That could indicate that areas where people previously had more positive attitudes toward cannabis tended to be the ones that moved to allow dispensaries when it became legal to do so.
The authors speculate that high school students may have “mirrored the behavior and perceptions of the adult population of their communities,” who either decided to approve or ban recreational marijuana dispensaries from opening in their communities.
They also found that students in communities without recreational dispensaries thought marijuana was more wrong in 2015 than in 2013. The researchers are unsure of why, though, and are calling for more studies to understand the reasons.
Meanwhile, another recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that young people who don’t consume marijuana are becoming more tolerant of those who do.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.