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The Number Of Kids Forced Into Marijuana Treatment Programs by Criminal Justice System Is Growing

Teen marijuana use is on the decline, but admissions to marijuana treatment programs are increasing.

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More than half of all minors placed into drug treatment programs for marijuan are referred to these programs by the criminal justice system, according to a new study published in the Substance Use & Misuse journal. The researchers also found that the number of youth referred to these treatment programs by law enforcement is on the rise, even though underage use of cannabis has been declining since the 1990s.

The study, titled “Trends in youth marijuana treatment admissions: Increasing admissions contrasted with decreasing drug involvement,” was conducted by researchers from Binghamton University in New York and the University of Iowa. The researchers reviewed youth marijuana treatment admission data from 1995 to 2012, and found that youth admissions to cannabis treatment facilities rose by 65% over that time period.

The increase in admission rates was most notable for minorities. The number of Latinos placed into marijuana treatment programs rose by 256% from 1995 to 2012, and the number of African American youth rose by 86 percent in that same time frame. The number of young people placed into these programs by the criminal justice system rose by 70 percent during the study period. By 2012, 54% of all youth placed into marijuana treatment were referred there by the criminal justice system.

However, half of these youth placed in these programs exhibited little to no evidence of cannabis dependency. Thirty percent of those admitted into marijuana treatment since 2008 had not even consumed marijuana during the 30 days prior to their admittance. Another 20 percent had only smoked pot three or fewer times in the month prior to their admission.

“Our findings indicate that the severity of drug use involved in those admissions has decreased,” authors concluded. “This study highlights the importance of identifying youth in actual need of treatment services.”