Marijuana Use by Youth Education Matters after Legalization

Marijuana Use by Youth Education Matters after Legalization

The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Young Adults: Exploring Cannabis Use Disorder

Marijuana Legalization

The legalization of marijuana has ignited significant debates in various countries, including the United States. Advocates argue that it offers numerous benefits, such as increased tax revenue, decreased criminal activity, and improved access for medical patients. On the other hand, opponents express concerns about potential societal harm, especially among young adults. A new study has shed light on the impact of marijuana legalization on young adults and the subsequent development of cannabis use disorder.

Young Adults Not in College: A Vulnerable Group

According to the study conducted by researchers from Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, after states in the United States legalized marijuana, young adults who weren’t in college demonstrated an increased likelihood of both using the drug and developing cannabis use disorder. Before legalization, 23% of non-college young adults reported using cannabis in the past month. However, after legalization, this percentage rose to 28%. In comparison, among college students within the same age bracket, the usage increased by only 1 percentage point, from 20% to 21%.

This discovery raises questions about the underlying factors influencing these trends. Dr. Silvia Martins, a study co-author, emphasizes the necessity for continued research to monitor changes in cannabis use prevalence, frequent use, and cannabis use disorder among young adults. Understanding why the increases were more pronounced among young adults not in college will contribute to developing effective prevention and intervention strategies.

Frequent Cannabis Use: A Growing Concern

The study further examines the prevalence of frequent cannabis use, defined as using the drug at least 20 times in the past month. Results indicate that this behavior increased from 12% to 14% among non-college young adults after marijuana legalization. Conversely, the prevalence of frequent use remained unchanged at 7% among college students.

These findings highlight the importance of acknowledging the shifting landscape surrounding cannabis. Professor David Kerr, a co-author from Oregon State University’s School of Psychological Science, emphasizes that the increased availability and promotion of cannabis in states where it is legal, along with changing societal perceptions, contribute to the rising occurrence of frequent cannabis use and potential cannabis use disorders.

Understanding Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis use disorder refers to individuals continuing to use marijuana despite the negative impact it has on their lives. Among non-college participants, the study observed an increase in cannabis use disorder from 12% to 15% following legalization. Surprisingly, the rates remained unchanged at 10% among college students.

Professor Kerr emphasizes the hypothesis that the increased acceptance and reduced negative social consequences associated with marijuana use may contribute to the higher occurrence of cannabis use disorder. He highlights that this disorder involves individuals being unable to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home and continuing to use the drug despite these challenges.

Factors Influencing the Shift

The changing perceptions of cannabis use play a significant role in these observed trends. A report from the Monitoring the Future study reveals that in 2020, only 21% of young adults believed that regular cannabis use puts people at risk of harm, compared to 58% of young adults who held this belief 20 years ago. Moreover, the potency of cannabis is higher in states where it is legal, having increased dramatically over time.

The increased prevalence of cannabis use and cannabis use disorder in young adults, particularly among those not in college, suggests a potential decrease in social consequences due to the more accommodating legal environment. However, Professor Kerr suggests that these findings may actually underestimate the scale of the issue due to limited societal consequences.

The study highlights interesting age variations in marijuana use. It found that recent cannabis use increased more among young adults aged 21 to 23 than among those aged 18 to 20. This trend aligns with the legal provisions in states that require individuals to be at least 21 years old to purchase and use cannabis, indicating the effectiveness of such regulations.

Continued monitoring and examination of these age-specific trends will provide valuable insights into the long-term impact of marijuana legalization on different age groups.


The legalization of marijuana has had a significant impact on young adults, both those in college and those not in college. While college students have seen a relatively marginal increase in marijuana use, young adults outside of college are experiencing more significant shifts, including higher rates of cannabis use and cannabis use disorder. These changes are influenced by factors such as increased availability, changing societal beliefs, and reduced negative consequences.

As the cannabis landscape continues to evolve, it is crucial to understand the implications and develop strategies to address the potential risks associated with marijuana use among young adults. By staying informed and conducting further research, policymakers, educators, and healthcare professionals can implement effective preventive measures and provide necessary support to ensure the well-being of young adults in today’s rapidly changing environment.


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