Studies Show Marijuana Use In Young Adults Drops After Legalization

The number of states allowing the legal use of both medicinal and recreational marijuana has skyrocketed in the past few years, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. 

With this growing trend of legalization comes a shift in the cannabis landscape. Everything has changed, from the way weed is purchased to who exactly purchases it. So how has legalization impacted marijuana consumption in young adults? 

Contrary to long-standing fears expressed by cannabis policy change opponents, marijuana use in teens and young adults is actually declining after legalization. 

Let’s explore the studies behind this phenomenon, as well as what it means for the future of weed use in the U.S. 

Marijuana Use in Young Adults on the Decline 

Teen marijuana use has been on the decline since the 1990s, but has remained near historic lows over the past few years. All of this is contrary to what some legalization opponents assume — that increased access might mean more teen and young adult usage. 

But that assumption isn’t consistent with the data. In fact, it contradicts it entirely. Legalization of recreational marijuana can lead to restricted access, with increased regulations and age controls making it harder to access cannabis under the age of 21. 

Youth Marijuana Statistics: What the Studies Show 

The more states legalize marijuana, the more youth consumption rates go down. The studies on legalization and youth usage back this up.

One study surveyed adolescents between 1993 and 2017 in all U.S. states, finding that the passing of recreational marijuana laws was associated with an 8% decline in the odds that teens would report trying cannabis. 

The most recent and compelling evidence, however, comes out of Washington state’s most populous county. A study released in 2024 by the CDC found that marijuana use among teens in the county has dropped significantly since the legalization of adult-use marijuana back in 2012. 

Youth consumption rates peaked in 2012 — the year recreational use was legalized — and have steadily fallen since, according to the survey. Use among male students fell from 20.3% in 2012 to 7.7% in 2021. Use by female students dropped as well, from 15% in 2012 to 9% in 2021. 

The CDC report confirms that the legalization of cannabis for adults older than 21 in Washington, along with the introduction of dispensaries requiring proof of age, might have limited the availability of marijuana to young adults.

Marijuana Legalization To Keep Our Communities Safe

Contrary to what opponents may claim, legalizing marijuana doesn’t lead to more youth use. In fact, it can have the opposite effect — regulating sales to improve the safety of cannabis practices. 

At Harbor House Collective, we know how powerful education and empowerment can be to keep our communities informed. Learn more about what we do on our website or visit us in person to learn more. 

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