No matter how close cannabis dispensaries are located to schools, age restrictions and other barriers have largely prevented underage teens from taking advantage of legalization.
Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health last month, new data from the University of California San Diego suggests that pot shops operating next to schools have no correlation to the rates of cannabis use or products consumed by local teenagers.
Across America’s legal weed bastions, strict zoning regulations have often pigeonholed pot shops in sparsely-populated industrial regions and designated zones. If you listen to regulators tell it, local zoning rules are necessary to keep the adults-only plant away from schools, daycares, public parks, and other child-friendly spaces. In Detroit and Denver, youth-focused zoning regulations have lead to the demise of multiple cannabis businesses.
In practice, though, teenagers who walk by dispensaries on their way to chemistry class are no more likely to light up a joint than their counterpoints in a city or state that has banned retail pot sales.
Looking at responses to California’s annual Student Tobacco Survey from more than 40,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, UCSD researchers keyed in on specific schools, comparing student cannabis use habits to the location of nearby medical marijuana dispensaries. After examining the tendencies of students living within three miles of a dispensary to those outside of those zones, the study’s authors concluded that there was no connection between pot shop placement and teen use.
“The distance from school to the nearest medical marijuana dispensary was not associated with adolescents’ use of marijuana in the past month or susceptibility to use marijuana in the future, nor was the weighted count of medical marijuana dispensaries within the 3-mile band of school,” the study’s authors wrote. “Neither the product price nor the product variety in the dispensary nearest to school was associated with marijuana use or susceptibility to use. The results were robust to different specifications of medical marijuana measures.”
The UCSD research is the latest in a string of studies that has rebuked prohibitionist claims that legalization will lead to more red-eyed students than ever before. Time and again, university researchers have crunched the numbers and found stagnant or decreasing rates of adolescent pot use in the years after states legalized.
“We did not find empirical support of the associations of medical marijuana availability, price, and product variety around schools with adolescents' marijuana use and susceptibility to use,” the UCSD study concluded. “Efforts should be taken to monitor changes in contextual environments of marijuana use in the new scheme of recreational marijuana legalization and examine the causal effects of these contextual factors to better inform policy making.”
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter