Marijuana Use Among Young People in an Era of Policy Change: What Does Recent Evidence Tell Us?


When it comes to marijuana use among young people in the US, the authors found that the best available evidence indicates a number of important things. First, by the time Americans reach late adolescence and the transition into young adulthood, roughly half (55%) have tried marijuana and one in five (22%) can be described as a current user. Second, a disconcerting proportion of current adolescent (26%) and young adult (21–22%) marijuana users meet diagnostic criteria for cannabis use disorder. Third, we can state with some confidence that, even in states that have enacted marijuana liberalization policies, marijuana use among adolescents is not currently increasing. In fact, there is rather compelling evidence that adolescent marijuana use has steadily declined. Fourth, while adolescent marijuana use is declining, the best available evidence suggests that marijuana use and cannabis use disorder have increased markedly among young adults and adults in general. Finally, adolescents and young adults are becoming increasingly permissive in their views about marijuana use and the risks it poses. And yet, there remains much that we do not know and sober voices caution that it is far too soon to begin to fully assess the impact of marijuana liberalization in the US. What the authors can say with certainty is that now is a time to carefully monitor trends in marijuana use, cannabis use disorder, and marijuana-specific risk factors, particularly among the nation’s youth. And, at this critical juncture in the history of drug policy in America, now is undoubtedly a time for parents, prevention scientists, and policymakers to push for careful and judicious regulatory policies to be put in place as new marijuana laws are written.


Salas-Wright, C. P., & Vaughn, M. G. (2016). Marijuana use among young people in an era of policy change: What does recent evidence tell us? The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/00952990.2016.1226319