Study discovers no connection between recreational cannabis legalization in Colorado and youth cannabis use/behavior

Focusing on accessibility, consumption and abuse patterns, the researchers did not find a “statistically significant difference” between the years 2013 and 2015

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On November 6, 2012, recreational cannabis legalization went into effect across the State of Colorado, making it one of the first regions in the U.S. to pass such a law. Coloradans voted to legalize Colorado Amendment 64, which went into effect in January of 2014. With it being one of the early movers in terms of enacting legalization, Colorado’s boasts a cannabis market that is ideal for analyzing the long-term impacts of legislation.

Researchers at Colorado State University in Pueblo have taken it upon themselves to determine a link between cannabis legalization and youth consumption rates. Primarily, they focused on the likelihood of a nearby dispensary influencing student consumption behaviors. They recently published their findings in the Journal of Cannabis Research.

“Based on the 2013 and 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data, permitting or not permitting recreational cannabis dispensaries in a community does not appear to change student cannabis use or perceptions towards cannabis,” states the study, which explored data from students in 12 high schools throughout southcentral Colorado. recreational legislation, local governments were given the opportunity to either allow or reject the establishment of dispensaries inside which regulated cannabis can be sold.

Critics of legalization were concerned that the establishment of dispensaries could trigger a spark of new high school consumers dabbling in the drug; particularly among students who attend school near the dispensaries.

Researchers asked study subjects about their cannabis consumption habits

In order to effectively find out what high school students in Colorado think of recreational legalization, the study’s authors compared cross-sectional data from 2013 with additional data from 2015. The researchers carried out investigative research into seven different communities, three of which launched recreational cannabis dispensaries in 2014.

To ensure their data was as accurate as possible, the team of researchers asked each study subject a number of questions. Those questions focused on each student’s level of consumption within a 30-day period. Students were also questioned about how easy it would be for them to obtain cannabis, as well as their opinion on the risk factors associated with using weed regularly and whether or not they deemed it acceptable for someone their age to use pot.

Cannabis consumption habits and opinions on using the plant for recreational purposes did not necessarily alter once the local government enacted legalization, according to the researchers. Moreover, each dispensary’s proximity to a high school did not directly influence consumption habits and perceptions.

Focusing on accessibility, consumption and abuse patterns, the researchers did not find a “statistically significant difference”  between the years 2013 and 2015. However, data pulled from various communities throughout Colorado indicates that the rate of high school cannabis consumption actually shrunk once complete legalization went into effect.

By analyzing data released from Colorado’s cannabis dispensaries both before the plant was legalized for recreational purposes and after, the study’s researchers found that students living in weed-friendly communities also tolerated cannabis consumption more than those who did not. Although they claimed that pot was actually harder to get hold of in areas that allowed dispensaries, the students use it more often.

“In both 2013 and 2015, students in communities that permitted recreational dispensaries used more cannabis, thought cannabis was less harmful, less wrong, and was more difficult to access than high school students in communities that did not permit recreational cannabis dispensaries,” concluded the researchers.

In the past, studies have indicated similar results. For example, this 2018 study detected no relationship between adolescent cannabis consumption and the number of adult-use dispensaries located within five miles of schools. Nonetheless, Colorado’s legal weed market is still going strong; boasting a current market value of $1 billion.