The Drug Class Blog

Jun 06

Legalization and teens

Legalization: How Does It Impact Teens

For years, marijuana was an illegal drug and it’s sales and use could result in fines, jail time, community service, etc. Not that this stopped people from growing, selling, distributing or using it, but due to its status, there was still a stigma attached to it, and people tended not to be as open about its use.


This has gradually changed, and laws regarding marijuana have changed. Medical marijuana was the start. People were able to obtain prescriptions from “doctors” that made it legal for them to use, possess, purchase and even grow marijuana for their personal, medical use.


Things have gone a step further, however, and some states are flat out legalizing it. So, what is the impact in these states, and in a society that is gradually accepting marijuana as not only a harmless recreational drug, but also as a medical cure-all?

Opinions On Legal Marijuana Use

People’s beliefs and opinions on the topic vary wildly. Some continue to be adamantly against it’s use, medical or otherwise. Others believe marijuana to be harmless, beneficial and safer than alcohol, which is legal. Many others take a middle ground. There are known benefits to cannabinoids, and there’s no doubt that it’s medicinal potential warrants further research. But, with today’s casual attitude toward marijuana, it does raise questions and concerns. How is the legalization of marijuana affecting teens today?

Teens And Marijuana

Marijuana has long been a favorite drug with teens. It has been referred to many times as a “gateway drug” that leads to the use of other, harder drugs.


Some data shows that pot use has in fact increased since the changes, while others maintain that there is no major spike in use. What does seem clear is that “perceived risk” has continuously dropped. This means that as time goes by and as laws change, teens are seeing marijuana as a low or no-risk substance that will do them no harm. However, this doesn’t seem to be affecting their rate of use.


According to the Colorado study, high school students’ self-reported use of marijuana was at 22.7 percent in the last month. This is not a significant increase over the 22.6 percent in 2011. However, there are conflicting reports, and some seem to show even less marijuana use, whereas some report more.


These studies vary, though. According to a federal study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Colorado youth leads the nation in recreational pot use. There is no reason not to believe that this is a direct result of the state’s more relaxed laws and attitudes about recreational marijuana use.


In Washington, there are similar reports. Teens use marijuana more than cigarettes, they perceive it as less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, and they report that it is easy to obtain. Marijuana usage among teens is more prevalent today than five years ago.


Legal, But Not Legal

Another thing to keep in mind when determining how legalization affects teens is the actual laws. For example, the legal age to smoke marijuana in Washington State is 21. So really, it is no more legal for a 16 or 18 year old to be smoking pot now than it was years ago, when pot was prohibited. These new marijuana laws are more similar to alcohol. Either way, teens aren’t supposed to be having it. Again, any jump in marijuana use among teens most likely involves stigma and perceived risk. There was a time that pot was still considered somewhat “taboo” in that only certain kinds of kids smoked it. Now, it’s perceived as harmless and there is little social stigma attached to it, and that may make it more attractive.

What About Other Drugs?

So weed is legal in some states, and as time goes by it will likely be legalized in more. It doesn’t appear that more teens are using pot than previously, or at least the numbers aren’t alarming. Perceived risk is low. But what about marijuana as a gateway drug? Does the casual attitude toward marijuana open the door for teens to use other, more harmful and addictive drugs? And, is marijuana really harmless?


There are no hard facts on the matter. There is some evidence that suggests that early use of marijuana can lead to cognitive deficits. This is a good reason for teens to avoid pot use until adulthood. As far as it being a gateway drug, many believe it isn’t, however, there is no way to dismiss this theory, and there are are some compelling statistics that seem to support that marijuana use does in fact lead to the use of alcohol and stronger drugs.


Only time will tell what the long-term impact of marijuana legalization will be for teens. Perhaps the lack of taboo will make it less alluring. Perhaps not. Kids have been smoking pot for decades, and that is not likely to change.



Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.


You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram


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