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How Adolescent Drug Usage Has Been Impacted by the Legalization of Marijuana

Jul 6, 2023 | Drug Usage Archives, Marijuana

The legalization of marijuana has been a topic of heated debate worldwide, with countless arguments focusing on its potential benefits and drawbacks. Arguably the most critical area of concern is how the legalization of marijuana may impact adolescent drug usage. While there are varying opinions on the matter, it is essential to examine the available evidence to understand the effects this policy change has had on young people. In this article, we will explore this issue in-depth, taking into account multiple perspectives.

The Legalization of Marijuana

Several states in the United States, along with countries such as Canada and Uruguay, have decriminalized or legalized marijuana to varying degrees. Advocates argue that regulation can reduce the black market, generate tax revenue, and redirect law enforcement resources. Plus, many of those that have pushed for the legalization of marijuana have cited medicinal use as a primary reason. However, opponents express concerns about potential negative consequences, especially among the vulnerable adolescent population.

What Are The Facts?

The data is showing us exactly how detrimental the legalization of marijuana has been for the youth in America. Currently, daily marijuana use is at the highest rate it has ever been. Increased access to this drug has only created a larger issue it seems, especially for adolescents. As of 2021, 1.3 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were addicted to marijuana. In the two years since this study, these numbers have likely increased. Decriminalizing marijuana is an issue that has not been black and white but it is safe to say that the reform has not been beneficial for the younger population.

Effects of Legalization on Adolescent Marijuana Usage

Access and Availability: One aspect that can influence adolescent drug usage is the accessibility and availability of marijuana. With legalization, regulated markets are established, which aim to control the distribution and sale of marijuana to adults. By implementing age restrictions and strict regulations, legalizing marijuana can potentially make it more challenging for adolescents to access the substance. However, the illegal market can still exist alongside the legal one, which may complicate the issue.

Perceived Risk and Social Norms: The perception of risk associated with drug use plays a significant role in adolescent decision-making. The legalization of marijuana may lead to a shift in social norms and attitudes toward the substance. If marijuana becomes more accepted and perceived as less harmful due to its legal status, adolescents may be more likely to experiment with it. This shift in perception can potentially contribute to increased marijuana use among young people.

Educational Initiatives: Alongside the legalization of marijuana, educational initiatives, and prevention programs can be implemented to educate adolescents about the potential risks and consequences associated with marijuana use. These programs aim to provide accurate information, promote healthy decision-making, and encourage responsible use. By investing in comprehensive drug education, society can equip young people with the necessary knowledge and tools to make informed choices.

Impact on Other Drug Usage: While the focus is primarily on marijuana, it is essential to consider the broader picture of adolescent drug usage. Some argue that the legalization of marijuana may lead to a substitution effect, where adolescents may opt for marijuana instead of other illicit substances with potentially more severe consequences. Further research is still needed to determine the validity and extent of this effect.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As marijuana legalization continues to evolve in different jurisdictions, policymakers, educators, and society at large will need to remain vigilant in addressing the potential consequences. Implementing effective prevention programs, regulating the market, and promoting responsible use are helpful steps in mitigating the risks associated with adolescent drug usage.

Strict Regulations

To ensure the well-being of adolescents in the context of marijuana legalization, several strategies can be implemented. Firstly, strict regulations and enforcement mechanisms should be in place to prevent underage access to marijuana. Age restrictions and identification protocols at dispensaries and licensed vendors can help reduce the likelihood of adolescents obtaining marijuana. The harder it is for them to get access to, the less likely they will regularly use it. 

On top of this, banning vaping substances can have a large impact on the appeal of marijuana. The emergence of vaping devices and concentrated forms of marijuana has drastically influenced adolescent marijuana use. These alternative methods of consumption seem to be perceived as more discreet and less harmful, attracting younger users. In addition to this, the sweet flavors used in these vaping devices are strategically marketed toward younger age groups. If this was to be banned in all states, we would likely see a decline in marijuana use in the 12-17 age range.

Drug Education

Comprehensive and evidence-based drug education programs should be integrated into school curricula as many of these detrimental behaviors begin within school walls. These programs should provide accurate information about the potential risks and consequences of marijuana use, as well as strategies for responsible decision-making. Education has always played a crucial role in empowering adolescents to make informed choices and resist peer pressure.

Health Campaigns

Public health campaigns can also be effective in shaping social norms and perceptions surrounding marijuana use. Promoting messages that highlight the potential risks and negative impacts on adolescent brain development can help counterbalance any normalization or glamorization of marijuana use resulting from its legalization. This can be especially helpful to counteract the strategic marketing that is being done by the cannabis industry. 

Mental Health Services

As always, investing in mental health support services should be non-negotiable. Adolescence is a critical period for brain development and mental health, and substance use of any kind can exacerbate underlying issues. Accessible and affordable counseling services can help identify and address any underlying mental health concerns, effectively reducing the likelihood of substance abuse. Marijuana addiction is not clearly understood by many, and some even believe that the substance itself is not addictive. Mental health providers can help educate those that might be suffering from this lesser-understood addiction.

Further Research

Ongoing research will allow us to better understand the specific effects of marijuana legalization on adolescent drug usage. Longitudinal studies that track changes in marijuana use patterns, as well as associated behavioral and health outcomes, can provide helpful insights. This research can help refine prevention strategies and inform policy decisions to ensure the well-being of young people.

The legalization of marijuana has undoubtedly raised concerns about its impact on adolescent drug usage and the data has confirmed many of these concerns. Fortunately, there are some strategies we can use to help undo some of the damage that has been done by this decriminalization. 

Parents can play a powerful role by remaining on top of their teens’ behaviors and stepping in if necessary. Keeping an open line of communication when it comes to the negative impacts of regular marijuana use can help adolescents understand the kind of harm they could be doing to their bodies. Hopefully, in the near future, lawmakers will find a way to decrease access to this drug, especially when it comes to the younger population.

New Dimensions Can Help!

New Dimensions has counseling programs for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.  To learn more about our services, including psychological testing, PHP, IOP, and Interventions, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at  To learn more about individual, family, and couples counseling visit