Study: No Rise in Teen Access to Marijuana in Washington

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Marijuana is legal for any adult use in Washington, but that fact hasn’t made it much easier for teenagers to get their hands on the drug, according to a new study.

Marijuana TeenagerThe report, based on data contained in the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey from 2010 and 2014, finds that teens have no less difficulty gaining access to cannabis since the state fully legalized the drug in 2012. Three other states – Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska – have done the same, as has the District of Columbia.

The study was presented in abstract form at the 2016 meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore on May 1. Titled “Adolescents’ Ease of Access to Marijuana Before and After Legalization of Marijuana in Washington State,” compared the data from 2010 to the statistics from 2014. These surveys polled teens about how easy it is for them to buy marijuana, other illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

The results show almost no change in the percentage of adolescents who said they find it “easy” to get cannabis; in fact, the numbers dropped slightly, from 55 percents in 2010 to 54 percent in 2014. But the decline is greater in reported access to other drugs(47 percent of teens said they found it “hard” to get alcohol in 2014 versus 43 percent in 2010; 53 percent for cigarettes in 2014 versus 42 percent in 2010; and 82 percent for hard drugs in 2014 versus 75 percent in 2010).

Other intoxicating drugs are increasingly difficult to obtain

teen marijuana useIn other words, the difficulty in obtaining drugs other than marijuana has increased more than the difficulty in getting cannabis. These numbers suggest efforts to discourage teenage marijuana use may be at least slightly less effective than efforts to diminish use of other intoxicating substances.

“It is both surprising and reassuring that teens didn’t perceive that marijuana was easier to access after it was legalized for recreational use by adults,” said the study’s senior investigator, Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York. “It was interesting and somewhat concerning, though, that while teens responded that it was harder to access cigarettes, alcohol, and psychoactive drugs abuse in 2014 compared to 4 years earlier, they didn’t report increased difficulty in obtaining marijuana during that same time period.”

Natalie Colaneri, the report’s principal investigator, said she hopes the results will lead to heightened efforts to discourage adolescents from using cannabis in Washington, as well as in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and other states that could soon legalize, including California.

“Given the detrimental health effects associated with adolescent marijuana use, it is important that states that choose to legalize marijuana take steps to minimize use by teens,” Colaneri said. “States should specifically implement measures that make it more difficult for teens to access marijuana in the first place.”

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