The passage of statewide laws in Colorado and Washington to legalize the retail sale of adult cannabis is not linked to an increase in the number of teenagers or young adults seeking substance abuse treatment for the use of opioids, cocaine, or methamphetamine, according to data published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville compared the pre-legalization and post-legalization rates of admission rates for drug abuse treatments in Colorado and Washington to a number of other US states that did not legalize recreational marijuana use . Specifically, the researchers rated opioid, cocaine, and methamphetamine intake between ages 12 and 24.
Neither in Colorado nor in Washington found an increase in drug treatment approvals after legalization, nor did treatment histories in these states differ significantly from those in other states that did not liberalize their cannabis laws.
They reported, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that examines whether RML [recreational marijuana legalization] in the US led to an increase in SUD [substance use disorder] Treatment recordings [for] illegal drugs other than marijuana. We found that legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington has not resulted in an increase in SUD treatment intakes for cocaine, opioids, or methamphetamines among adolescents or emerging adults. “
Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These data undermine longstanding claims that marijuana is a kind of ‘gateway’ to the abuse of other controlled substances – a claim that has historically been largely banned. Marijuana Policy in the United States Despite the Lack of Hard Evidence. “
Separate data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control late last year also reported that the number of teens admitted to drug treatment programs for marijuana problems in states that have legalized and regulated adult use , has declined sharply. Data published in 2019 in JAMA Pediatrics magazine also reported that the enactment of laws regulating cannabis use by adults has been linked to a decline in self-reported marijuana use among young people.
The full text of the study, Approvals for the Treatment of Opioids, Cocaine, and Methamphetamines in Adolescents and Emerging Adults After Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, appears in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Further information can be found in the NORML factsheet “Marihuana Regulation and Teen Use Rates”.