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UMass Amherst Study Finds No Increase in Youth Marijuana Use Post-Legalization

Research reveals that cannabis legalization in Massachusetts in 2016 did not lead to a rise in adolescent marijuana use.

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Research conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst reveals that the 2016 legalization of cannabis in Massachusetts did not lead to an increase in marijuana use among high school students. The study, spearheaded by Faith English, a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, focused on the influence of perceived marijuana use by parents, siblings, and friends on adolescents’ own use patterns.

Despite existing concerns that cannabis legalization might elevate youth marijuana use, the study’s findings, published in Clinical Therapeutics, indicate otherwise. English and senior author Jennifer Whitehill, an associate professor of health policy and management, compared adolescent marijuana use before and after legalization. Their analysis, drawn from surveys conducted at two eastern Massachusetts high schools in 2016 and 2018, revealed no significant change in marijuana use among teenagers post-legalization.

No association was found between the legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use and adolescent use, though further research is warranted, English said in a statement.

English’s research extends beyond the immediate findings, as she also investigates the broader implications of cannabis legalization, including its effects on school discipline and the criminal justice system.

This outcome is particularly relevant as various states in the U.S. continue to adopt cannabis legalization policies. The research underscores the complexity of marijuana legalization’s impact on youth and contributes to the ongoing policy discussions. It also highlights the need for targeted prevention and intervention strategies for adolescents who perceive their family and friends as marijuana users, a group identified as being at heightened risk for cannabis use.

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