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Pot abuse didn’t increase in states that legalized recreational marijuana, study says

Sept. 27 (UPI) — Marijuana abuse has not increased in states that have enacted laws legalizing recreational forms of the drug, a study published Monday by JAMA Network Open found.

Just under 2% of people living in states in which recreational marijuana use has been legalized reported having been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder, the data showed.

In comparison, slightly more than 1% of residents in non-legalization states indicated they had been given a marijuana use disorder diagnosis.

However, legalization laws have had different effects on marijuana use among those of different racial and ethnic groups, with Hispanic people 33% more likely to report past-year use of the drug following legalization, according to the researchers.

Similarly, White people living in states in which recreational use is allowed were 21% more likely to indicate past-year use than they were when the drug was still illegal.

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Conversely, enactment of laws allowing for recreational marijuana use led to little if any change in behaviors among Black people.

Across all racial and ethnic — as well as age — groups, reported daily use of marijuana did not substantially increase even after recreational use was legalized.

This suggests that there was not a rise in marijuana use disorder in these states, the researchers said.

“At least in the first few years after recreational cannabis legalization in states that legalized cannabis for adult use, cannabis use only increased among certain demographic subgroups,” study co-author Silvia S. Martins told UPI in an email.

“And, there were virtually no increases in cannabis use frequency and cannabis use disorder,” said Martins, who is director of the Substance Use Epidemiology Unit at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

In addition, there were no increases in use of the drug among teens ages 12 to 20 following the passage of these laws, a primary concern cited by those opposed to them, she said.

Since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2012, 17 other states have passed similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Use of the drug in these states has increased in the aftermath of these laws, research suggests.

However, before the drug’s legalization in many parts of the country, people of color were up to four times more likely to face criminal charges for possession and use compared with White people, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.

To assess the effects of recreational marijuana laws on use of the drug across racial and ethnic groups, Martins and her colleagues analyzed data on usage among nearly 840,000 people in the United States.

The analysis tracked trends in usage between 2008 and 2020 among people living in states that passed legislation allowing recreational use during that period as well as in those that did not.

Just over 16% of participants living in states with laws legalizing recreational marijuana reported past year use, compared with just over 10% of those living in states in which the drug remains illegal.

Similarly, 11% of participants in states that legalized the drug reported past-month use, compared with 6% of those in non-legal states, .

Hispanic people were 45% more likely to report past month marijuana use after their states legalized recreational use than they were before the law change, while White people were 24% more likely to do so.

Less than 2% of participants living in legalization states reported having been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder, while just over 1% of those living in states in which the drug remains illegal did so, the data showed.

“We have not seen significant increases in frequent cannabis use and cannabis use disorders post-adult cannabis use legalization across most demographic subgroups, but we see, as expected increases in use in some demographic subgroups,” Martins said.

“Monitoring both unintended and intended consequences that may be attributable to recreational policy enactment as well as variations in the impacts of different recreational policy provisions by race/ethnicity is needed,” she said.

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