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No, Legalization Did Not Give Teens Easier Access To Marijuana In Washington State

A new study out of Washington state shows that legalization does not give young people easier access to marijuana, which should help ease the fears of opponents, and also supporters who need to feel comfortable that ending prohibition won't negatively affect the health and well-being of youth.

Washington state legalized the recreational use of cannabis in 2012. In 2010, two years before the legalization votes, 55 percent of the teens polled in the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey said they had "easy" access to marijuana. In 2014, 54 percent of adolescents said they had easy access.

"It is both surprising and reassuring that teens didn't perceive that marijuana was easier to access after it was legalized for recreational use by adults," said senior investigator Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.

Alcohol, tobacco are harder to find

The annual survey also asked teens about their access to other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco. They told surveyors it has become harder to access alcohol (47 percent, compared with 43 percent in 2010) and cigarettes (53 percent in 2014; 42 percent in 2010).

Adesman said it was "somewhat concerning" that they didn't report increased difficulty in obtaining marijuana during that same time period.

Principal investigator Natalie Colaneri hopes the findings will help inform policy discussions on how legalized states - and ones considering legalization - keep young people from accessing marijuana intended for adult use only.

"Given the detrimental health effects associated with adolescent marijuana use, it is important that states that choose to legalize marijuana take steps to minimize use by teens," said Colaneri. "States should specifically implement measures that make it more difficult for teens to access marijuana in the first place."


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