The argument that legalizing medical marijuana increases use among teens has been a key point for anti-marijuana groups to manipulate, even though no evidence exists to support those claims. In January, Patrick Kennedy (son of the late Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy) formed Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) in an attempt to rejuvenate the fear that marijuana once endured. He travels the country speaking to groups about the dangers of marijuana even though it was his addiction to OxyContin and alcohol that led to his political demise. In 2006, he fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed his car into a barrier near the U.S. Capitol. His problems forced him to retire from the House of Representatives. Kennedy recently stated that research now makes it clear that marijuana is a gateway drug that can induce psychosis, creating “devastating health consequences,” Unfortunately for Kennedy, this research doesn’t exist. What does exist is a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health in which researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainseville determined that the enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not lead to an increase in teen marijuana use.
The researchers used data over an eight year period compiled from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the states of Montana, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Delaware. Sarah D. Lynne-Landsman, PhD, Melvin D. Livingston, BA, and Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD are with the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy and the Institute for Child Health Policy conducted the survey which contradicts what anti-marijuana organizations have been preaching for years. These data confirm the results of other similar studies on MMLs and teen use.
In 2012, the German Institute for the Study of Labor published work by university researchers at Montana State, Oregon, and Colorado-Denver entitled “Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Use“. Anderson, Hansen, & Rees examined the same Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1993-2009, covering then-thirteen medical marijuana states, and concluded “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana and other substances among high school students.”
In an updated study conducted by Karen O’Keefe and Dr. Mitch Earleywine made the following conclusions: Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. has witnessed a well-publicized and sometimes emotional national debate over the medical use of marijuana. Contrary to the fears expressed by opponents of medical marijuana laws, there is no evidence that the enactment of medical marijuana laws in 16 states and the District of Columbia have produced an increase in adolescent marijuana use in those states or nationwide. Instead, data from those states suggest a modest decline nationally and in medical marijuana states overall, with large declines in some age groups in some states. This data trend strongly suggests that the effect of state medical marijuana laws on teen marijuana use has been either neutral or positive. California researchers, who appear to be the only ones to specifically study the issue in the context of a survey of adolescent drug use, found no evidence of a “wrong message” effect. Legislators considering medical marijuana proposals should evaluate the bills on their own merits, without concern for unproven claims that such laws increase teen marijuana use. Opponents of medical marijuana laws should cease making such unsubstantiated claims
The one key ally our adversaries have is the federal government who refuse to accept the medicinal value of marijuana. While at least a dozen state legislatures are considering bills to allow the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government has recently intensified its efforts to restrict medical marijuana patients. Federal officials contend that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds. As public sentiment changes towards marijuana reform hopefully the feds will change their tune. The truth and data is on our side and with a bit of luck one day the truth will set us free.
Objectives. Medical marijuana laws (MMLs) have been suggested as a possible cause of increases in marijuana use among adolescents in the United States. We evaluated the effects of MMLs on adolescent marijuana use from 2003 through 2011.
Methods. We used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and a difference-in-differences design to evaluate the effects of passage of state MMLs on adolescent marijuana use. The states examined (Montana, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Delaware) had passed MMLs at different times over a period of 8 years, ensuring that contemporaneous history was not a design confound.
Results. In 40 planned comparisons of adolescents exposed and not exposed to MMLs across states and over time, only 2 significant effects were found, an outcome expected according to chance alone. Further examination of the (nonsignificant) estimates revealed no discernible pattern suggesting an effect on either self-reported prevalence or frequency of marijuana use.
Conclusions. Our results suggest that, in the states assessed here, MMLs have not measurably affected adolescent marijuana use in the first few years after their enactment. Longer-term results, after MMLs are more fully implemented, might be different. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print June 13, 2013: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301117)