In states where recreational marijuana is legal, adolescents ages 12 to 17 reported a 25% higher increase than in states without legalized cannabis. The spike in marijuana usage that came with legalization is most dramatic among young people, and advertising probably drives the increase.
The unstated goals of the legalization movement – seen in the billboards, push polls, lobbying, political donations and empty promises – are making money and increasing usage.
The stated goals of the legalization movement are tax money, keeping people out of jail, social justice and regulation. If regulation and keeping it away from youth were the actual goals, why is billboard advertising allowed in places youth see it? Residents of five states will vote on legalizing and commercializing marijuana, but do they understand how bad the advertising is?
When Californians voted to legalize, the ballot promised that advertising wouldn’t be on interstates or visible to many children . However, billboards appeared on the interstates for nearly three years, until a judge ruled in favor of the objecting parents.
Billboard Marketing and Problematic Cannabis Use Among Adolescents
The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs published an article on Cannabis Marketing and Problematic Use Among Adolescents. From interviewing 172 teens who use pot in 6 states, University of North Carolina researchers concluded that seeing cannabis shops and billboards had a greater effect on teens than social media marketing.
Billboards have a public, in-your-face message and give legitimacy, which the marijuana industry exploits. Attempts to get rid of the billboards go poorly, as the cannabis industry fights all regulations.
Billboards seen from Chicago expressways, in advance of the 2021 Lollapalooza Festival, caused a public outcry. The signs were aimed at getting everyday users, as well as out-of-state visitors. This year, the pot shops used another tactic; they ran free shuttles between the festival and weed stores.
It’s too soon to test whether Illinois youth use marijuana at higher rates. The state’s sales figures go up and down. But teens who see billboards are 7x more likely to use it and 6x more likely to develop cannabis use disorder, according to that study of teens in 6 legalization states.
Why higher rates of teen use are such a concern
Some parents mistakenly think it’s not an issue when your kids use marijuana. Yet the majority of those who die of overdose started drug use with cannabis. Many also don’t understand that plant modification and extraction processes make today’s cannabis 10x, 20x and even 50x stronger than the marijuana of the past. In Colorado, teens use the most potent products at 3x the rate of adults. Those who use today’s marijuana under age 25 risk addiction to it and mental health disorders.
“Certainly the consumption of marijuana has been going up across all of the country, and it has been driven by the legislation.”
~ Dr. Nora Volkow
The cannabis industry uses the same playbook for addiction-for-profit marketing that created the opioid crisis. Once again, people are supposed to believe that this product is not addictive and poses no risks.
Studies have found that cannabis use has increased in the U.S. states that have legalized it. A Canadian study determined that cannabis use increased even among people who were not cannabis users prior to legalization. However, increases are less dramatic in adults over age 25. One major study found that past month marijuana usage in adults aged 26 and over went up slightly, from 6% to 7% in states that had legalized it.
Increase in Cannabis Use Disorder
Most significantly, adolescents in legalized states are at increased risk of developing Cannabis Use Disorder. Young adults, on the other hand, are less likely to seek treatment, even when struggling with CUD.
Skyrocketing marijuana use among young people is not an accident. It is a deliberate marketing strategy by the cannabis industry. Dr. LaTisha Bader, PhD, the Clinical Director for a Denver-area recovery program explains:
“…this industry is using every profiteering strategy they can. They have learned the best lessons from the alcohol industry by targeting demographics of culture, to the duplicity of Big Tobacco testifying to its innocuous existence. If you read any basic business article reflecting how to attract and retain customers, the key is to….entice new users, to make recreational users regular users, and keep regular users loyal.”
The Bottom Line about Young People and Marijuana
“Cannabis is the most prevalent drug used by the under-18s, and during this critical period of development, services should be especially aware of and responsive to the problems that cannabis use can cause for adolescent populations.”
~ Dr. Steven Marwaha, PhD, University of Birmingham
The data doesn’t lie. This at once is both a serious public health concern and a sobering reminder of the consequences of cannabis legalization. Marijuana is not harmless, and it is a serious mistake to make it even more available than it already is. Unfortunately, the people who suffer the most for that mistake are the ones most vulnerable to the drug’s harmful effects – teenagers and young adults.
Have any states actually “regulated” marijuana successfully?
Vermont and Connecticut enacted potency caps into their legalization programs, although neither program has gotten off the ground. This year Vermont had to fight back against an attempt to stop the potency caps.
Be careful, because ballot initiatives never do what they say they’ll do. Beware of broken promises!