Funding: NIDA R01DA034091
The purpose of this serial cross-sectional study is to identify the impact of medical marijuana laws on drug-related attitudes, consumption and abuse among adolescents and young adults. Since 1996, eighteen states (including DC) have passed laws that decriminalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes and another 12 states are currently deliberating. Medical marijuana (MM) laws are intended to help patients cope with chronic pain and loss of appetite that often accompany serious illness. These laws could, however, have unintended consequences for younger people. It has long been argued that such policies could inadvertently “send the wrong message” to young people about the risks of drug use. Further, if poorly regulated and enforced, MM laws could unintentionally increase access to illicit cannabis by driving down its price. Initiation of drug usage typically occurs during adolescence and young adulthood, in part because young people are prone to acting on social messages and are actively forming lifelong views about illicit drugs. These vulnerabilities make young people a high priority population for substance abuse research. We propose a nine-year, state-level prospective investigation of the relationships between passage of state MM laws and drug-related outcomes among adolescents (12-17 years) and young adults (18-25 years). Our central hypothesis is that passage of state MM laws will be associated with decreased perceptions of risk in populations of young people, and subsequent increases in cannabis use abuse, and perceived availability of marijuana within MM states. Analyses will compare changes in these outcomes among populations of young people residing in states with MM laws, using those in non-MM states as a control group. We draw on nine annual waves of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), from 2002-10 to track population-based changes in drug-related attitudes, consumption and problems over time. We augment the NSDUH with original data collection on state MM laws in addition to state-level control variables gathered from publicly available data sources (e.g., Current Population Survey, California Health Interview Survey).