Cannabis: Legalization and its Impact on Today’s Youth

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The legalization of recreational marijuana was driven by politicians who had a desire to restructure the current medical marijuana laws, to help law enforcement, and by profits. With the commercialization and legalization of marijuana by Washington voters in 2012 an emerging trend has occurred where adolescents ages 12 and older have begun to perceive marijuana as not only legal (for them), but that it is also not harmful. Along with this new “perception”, the adult public consensus suggests that marijuana is not a drug which has trickled down to our youth. So, the adults are happy with legalization, but did they not realize how it would affect our kids? NO. Between false advertising, promotions on social media, and the ever-changing public perception, it has led to chronic adolescent marijuana use which has a direct link to cognitive impairment, poor academic work, and higher mental health issues such as addiction and psychosis.

Law makers believed that treating adult marijuana users as criminals was not a constructive use of government resources. Former U.S. Attorney John McKay stated, “The enormous demand for marijuana in the face of criminal penalties, which has been in existence for 70 years, is spinning off enormous profits for drug cartels, for gangs, for drug dealers. We are strategically, way, way out of position in law enforcement by allowing the American marijuana demand and market to fund those much more serious activities” (as cited in Ballotpedia, 2012). Therefore, changing the marijuana laws would help with reducing the number of marijuana offenses, directly serving to eliminate jail overcrowding. Firth (2018) provided data collected by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs which showed that marijuana incident arrests dropped by 58-63% after legalization with further data on marijuana offenses filed with the courts showing that from 2012 to 2015 total cases dropped from 6,336 to just 2,313 among all ages (p. 3). However, the decline in misdemeanor arrests does not show that our youth are more able to acquire marijuana now then they did prior to legalization.

As with prescription medication or alcohol, marijuana can be abused. Pflaumer, Alsdorf, Levinson (2011) claimed that law makers did not want to promote marijuana use, but “to end the failed experiment with marijuana prohibition and replace it with a well-considered public-health framework that dedicates money to prevention and treatment rather than incarceration”. While incarceration has declined according to statistics, a 2018 survey conducted states that, “seven percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of 10th graders, and 26 percent of 12th graders” have said they used [marijuana] in the past 30 days with “36% of 8th graders, 40% of 10th graders, and 47% of 12th graders indicating they used on six or more days. This is definitely scary to me. The survey also indicates that over half of the 12th grades admitted to driving within 3 hours of using marijuana at least once during a 30-day period. In essence, those 12th graders seem to disregard the fact that they are under the influence after using marijuana.

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Youth exposure to marijuana messages/advertisements have increased since legalization. Advertisements include billboards, print ads, radio spots and promotions on social media. As adolescents are one of the most profuse and involved social media user, it is highly likely that commercial marijuana promotions have a high potential of reaching and influencing our youth. With this exposure comes the products. The marijuana industry has created many products that would appeal to kids such as candies, cookies, brownies and even suckers. Data (2018) states that the most common way of using marijuana is by smoking it; however, tenth graders have reported using dabs, consuming marijuana edibles, vaping, or drinking marijuana beverages.

They have also copied the tobacco industry where they are utilizing vaping devices and selling marijuana infused product as a safer way to smoke. With these promotions and advertising, students believe that marijuana is very easy to obtain. Many report that they get marijuana from friends with about one in six giving money to someone else to buy it for them. This is the change we see in our society.

As with alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the new “norm” for parties and abuse by teens. Along with this comes the declining perceived risk of regular use. “About one in five 8th graders, one in three 10th graders, and almost half of 2th graders perceived little risk to regular use” (data, 2018). With a decrease in perceived risk, it is often followed by an increase in use. Along with this decrease in perceived risk, marijuana businesses have been found to overstate the benefits of their products online. Many online marijuana retailers have proposed benefits to include a reduction in anxiety, as a treatment for depression and help with insomnia. While marijuana can provide relief from certain medical conditions, including cancer, it is true that THC, can be used to treat certain medical aliments. Studies conducted across the US, Canada, Norway, and the United Kingdom have shown that marijuana had positive effects on migraine headaches, rheumatoid/fibromyalgia, muscular pain, back pain and multiple sclerosis (Ryan and Sharts-Hopko, 2017). But the consequences of marijuana use are particularly pronounced for teens which includes academic difficulties, impaired driving, psychiatric impairment and progression to other drugs.

Marijuana does affect the brain and body. Marijuana’s main property is THC. When someone smokes marijuana the chemical THC passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. THC acts on specific brain receptors that play a role in our normal brain development and function. The THC over activates this area and causes the user to feel a “high”. Other effects are stated to be: senses being altered, changes in mood, difficulty with thinking and problem solving as well as impaired memory. When taken in high quantities, effects can include psychosis, delusions, and even hallucinations.

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Cannabis: Legalization and its Impact on Today’s Youth. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
“Cannabis: Legalization and its Impact on Today’s Youth.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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