Fewer Teens Are Going to Rehab for Weed in Adult-Use States, Federal Report Finds
Once again, the federal government has admitted that teen cannabis use and dependency issues are declining in states that have legalized marijuana.
Published on November 23, 2020

The number of teens being admitted to marijuana treatment programs has decreased significantly over the past decade, according to a new report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The peer-reviewed research report, entitled Trends in Adolescent Treatment Admissions for Marijuana in the United States, 2008-2017, collated data from teen drug treatment programs in every state. Study author Jeremy Mennis, a professor at Temple University, isolated data for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who were admitted to publicly funded substance abuse treatment facilities primarily for cannabis use.

The study reports that adolescent pot treatment admissions actually declined in almost every state over the study period. The average rate of admissions for cannabis dependency issues fell from 60 admissions per 10,000 adolescents in 2008 to 31 per 10,000 in 2017. During this time period, California, Washington, and Oregon all had the highest rates of admissions – but after each of these states legalized adult-use, the rates of teen marijuana treatment admissions dropped significantly.

This trend was also observed in nearly every other state that legalized adult-use during the study period. “Notably... 7 of 8 states with recreational legalization during the study period fall into the class with the steepest level of admissions decline,” Mennis explained. The author did note that “medical legalization status does not appear to correspond to treatment admission trends,” however.

The analysis does not offer a concrete explanation as to why admission rates are dropping so quickly in adult-use states. Mennis suggested that “changes in attitudes toward marijuana, as well as differences among states in marijuana use” might explain the change, but other recent studies may offer a more concrete explanation.

Over the past few years, numerous studies have found that rates of teen cannabis use have been declining in states that have legalized adult-use. This data is so clear, in fact, that leaders of federal anti-drug task forces have even been forced to admit that recreational pot legalization has decreased teen toking. 

Changes in prohibition laws and law enforcement practices may also explain this drop in admissions. In many states, teens who are caught with weed are forced to enter drug treatment services. In fact, over half of all young people who enter drug treatment programs for marijuana use have been placed into those services by the courts, according to a 2017 study. But in many states where weed is legal, these mandatory treatment laws have been rescinded.

Regardless of the exact explanation, it is abundantly clear that the claim that cannabis legalization will increase teen cannabis use and dependency problems is nothing but a myth. 

“These findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that legalization policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a statement.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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