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The Commercial Marijuana Market:  Understanding Possible Effects on Adolescents’ Beliefs and Use

December, 2018

In the United States, as of November 2018, medical use of marijuana is legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and recreational use is legal in 10 states and D.C.  As the national landscape regarding marijuana legalization changes in the U.S., more research is needed to understand how adolescents’ exposure to marijuana commercialization and marijuana dispensaries, recreational outlets, and marketing may affect their marijuana use and beliefs. At this point, we are embarking on major social changes without much knowledge of possible unintended consequences. 

At PRC, we are currently conducting research on youth “activity spaces”, which include all locations and the routes that individuals experience in their daily activities of adolescents. Such research is important to guide policies and prevention efforts to reduce any negative effects of marijuana commercialization including the effects on adolescents’ marijuana use and problems.

Commercialization of cannabis, including marijuana, concentrates, and edibles, may affect adolescents’ use in many ways.  It can have a direct effect by increasing availability.  Because it is legal and relatively easy to obtain, commercialization can also have an indirect effect by giving the impression that cannabis is safe and that it is normal to use it. Although legal sales of recreational marijuana are restricted to adults, enforcement compliance checks indicate that between 11% and 23% of recreational outlets may sell to minors. Because it is easy for people over 21 to obtain, they can provide it to their younger friends and family.  Young people may also be exposed to aggressive marketing of the emerging cannabis industry. Legalization of cultivation for personal use raises additional concerns about access and exposure.

What will be the effect of exposure to marijuana dispensaries, recreational outlets, and marketing on young people? Studies showing associations between adolescents’ exposure to alcohol and tobacco outlets and use of those substances indicate the importance of more studies investigating this issue when it comes to marijuana. A recent study showed no associations between adolescents’ current use or susceptibility to use marijuana and proximity or density of medical marijuana dispensaries around schools.  But, of course, we know from other research that young people spend time in many different places – not just around schools. 

We also must recognize that the cannabis market is different from the more familiar tobacco and alcohol markets. In addition to marijuana, many cannabis products (e.g., edibles, concentrates, infusions, tinctures, lotions, and butters) are available and heavily marketed. These products can be smoked, eaten, vaped, or used topically. Many of these products are easily transportable and readily concealed or disguised. Many of them can be used covertly (such as candies), possibly making it easy for teens to use them with little fear of being caught. Also, unlike alcohol and tobacco, there remains a substantial illegal market.

Future research should consider marijuana retail availability in the broader environments where adolescents spend their time.

Source:  Lipperman-Kreda, S. Grube, J.W. (2018). Impacts of marijuana commercialization on adolescents' marijuana beliefs, use, and co-use with other substances. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 5-6.

Preparation of this manuscript were supported by grant P60-AA006282 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and grant 25IR-0029 from the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIAAA, NIH, or TRDRP.

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