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Has Cannabis Use Among Youth Increased After Changes in Its Legal Status? A Commentary on Use of Monitoring the Future for Analyses of Changes in State Cannabis Laws

Abstract

As US states move toward various forms of adult access to cannabis, there has been a great interest in measuring the impact of such changes on adolescent cannabis use. Two recent prominent analyses have used Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nationally representative survey of students, to examine the effects. We compared MTF data for California and for Washington State with other survey data on use by adolescents in those states. In both studies, findings based on MTF were different from those using other larger, state-representative surveys. The discrepancy reflects the high within-state variation in prevalence rates and the small number of schools in MTF state samples. Using the Washington Health Youth Survey, we estimate that after recreational cannabis legalization past 30-day cannabis use prevalence in grade 8 decreased by 22.0%, in grade 10 prevalence decreased by 12.7%, and no effect in grade 12. These trends are consistent with those in states without recreational cannabis laws, suggesting that legalization did not impact adolescent use prevalence. Long-term trends in MTF are consistent with other data, but year-to-year volatility in state-level series undermines the survey’s suitability for evaluation of state cannabis policy changes. Survey-based analyses at the state level need to be cross-validated with findings from other data sources. When findings are disparate and methodological rigor is equivalent, analyses of data sources specifically designed to describe state-level phenomena are more credible.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act was introduced in February 2009 but was not approved by subcommittee until 2010 and failed to reach the floor of the State Assembly for vote. It is unlikely that this bill affected adolescent cannabis use in the state.

  2. 2.

    The mean simulation-based prevalence rates for each grade and period are not statistically different from the adjusted rates found by Dilley et al. (2018) based on Cerdá et al. (2017).

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Funding

This study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R01DA039293. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Greg Midgette.

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Midgette, G., Reuter, P. Has Cannabis Use Among Youth Increased After Changes in Its Legal Status? A Commentary on Use of Monitoring the Future for Analyses of Changes in State Cannabis Laws. Prev Sci 21, 137–145 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-019-01068-4

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Keywords

  • Cannabis
  • Adolescent drug use
  • Survey research methods
  • Policy analysis