Effects of Cannabis Legalization on Adolescent Cannabis Use Across 3 Studies

Published:November 10, 2022DOI:


      Canada, Uruguay, and 18 states in the U.S. have legalized the use of nonmedical (recreational) cannabis for adults, yet the impact of legalization on adolescent cannabis use remains unclear. This study examined whether cannabis legalization for adults predicted changes in the probability of cannabis use among adolescents aged 13–18 years.


      Data were drawn from 3 longitudinal studies of youth (spanning 1999–2020) centered in 3 U.S. states: Oregon, New York, and Washington. During this time, Oregon (2015) and Washington (2012) passed cannabis legalization; New York did not. In each study, youth average age was 15 years (total N=940; 49%–56% female, 11%–81% Black/African American and/or Latinx). Multilevel modeling (in 2021) of repeated measures tested whether legalization predicted within- or between-person change in past-year cannabis use or use frequency over time.


      Change in legalization status across adolescence was not significantly related to within-person change in the probability or frequency of self-reported past-year cannabis use. At the between-person level, youth who spent more of their adolescence under legalization were no more or less likely to have used cannabis at age 15 years than adolescents who spent little or no time under legalization.


      This study addresses several limitations of repeated cross-sectional studies of the impact of cannabis legalization on adolescent cannabis use. Findings are not consistent with changes in the prevalence or frequency of adolescent cannabis use after legalization. Ongoing surveillance and analyses of subpopulations are recommended.
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