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Marijuana is becoming more popular in states where recreational cannabis is legal

Experts say cannabis education and the long-term safety of consumers are a big focus

Marijuana legalization concept
Photo (c) Bulat Silvia - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health explored how trends related to cannabis legalization have affected consumers’ use of the drug. According to their findings, consumers are much more likely to use marijuana in states where cannabis has been legalized than in states where the drug is illegal. 

“Based upon over a decade of data, cannabis use was markedly more prevalent in states where recreational use is legal for adults, relative to states where it was not yet in 2017,” said researcher Renee Goodwin, Ph.D. “Yet, the increase in cannabis use during this time period was as fast, or faster, in states where cannabis use is prohibited by law, relative to states that had legalized for recreational use by 2017. 

“It remains to be seen how increased lawful access and growing use of cannabis among adults in all states – almost regardless of legal status – will impact the adolescent population. Recent trends, however, outline a potential explosion in both of-age and under-age use.” 

Nationwide marijuana use

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2004 through 2017. Over 784,000 people aged 12 and above participated in the survey, and the researchers broke down the results based on where the participants lived and the legalization status of cannabis in their states. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that participants were more likely to use marijuana if the drug was legalized in their state. 

The study also showed that cigarette smoking was predictive of marijuana use. One-third of cigarette smokers who lived in states where marijuana was legal reported using the drug recreationally within the previous month; additionally, nearly 20% reported using marijuana every day. On the other hand, just one out of 10 non-cigarette smokers in legalized states had reported using cannabis for recreational purposes. 

The researchers found that these trends held up among the youngest study participants. Nearly 75% of participants between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoked cigarettes reported that they had used cannabis within the previous month if it was legalized in their state. Another 30% were using the drug daily. For non-cigarette smokers, 5% had reported using marijuana within the previous month. 

As more and more states begin to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the researchers hope more work is done to ensure that consumers of all ages are receiving the proper education and safety resources. 

“U.S. states are rapidly passing legislation, yet what should be requisite public education on how cannabis can be used safely has not accompanied these changes,” said Dr. Goodwin. “For instance, retail licenses are being issued and it is expected that recreational retail outlets will open within the year in New York State, yet New York has not provided evidence-based guidance outlining safe cannabis use practices or informing the public of potential health risks associated with various levels of cannabis use.” 

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