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Photo by Mayara Klingner / EyeEm via Getty Images

legalization | 01.01.2022

Youth Marijuana Use Does Not Go Up When States Stop Making Arrests: A Study

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine find evidence supporting decriminalization.

According to a new Washington University School of Medicine study, decriminalizing cannabis does not lead more young people to consume it. On the contrary, the researchers found that decriminalizing cannabis can significantly benefit the well-being of adolescents.

The Washington University School of Medicine looked at the data on cannabis use and the number of related arrests in five decriminalized, cannabis states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, and Connecticut—between the years of 2007 and 2015. 

When cannabis is decriminalized, it means the penalties for being caught with small amounts of it are similar to that of a traffic infraction. A person might receive a fine—even a substantial one—but will not be arrested or have the offense listed on their criminal record. However, the sale and possession of large quantities of cannabis are still grounds for criminal charges under decriminalization. Each country and state that decriminalizes cannabis sets their own guidelines, with the definition of minor possession varying from 10 to 100 grams by state. 

“The policies have a net positive effect on public health because we don’t see increases in marijuana use among young people, and there’s the additional benefit that there were fewer marijuana arrests,” said Richard A. Grucza, the study’s lead author and psychiatry professor at the Washington University School of Medicine, in a statement.

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Photo by Frank van Delft via Getty Images

According to the data, for those 21 years of age or younger, decriminalization was found to reduce the number of cannabis arrests by about 75 percent. This data was sourced from the FBI and Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, which provides self-reported data on adolescent drug use. 

As the researchers note, this decline in arrests is significant for the well-being of young people as arrests can have long-term consequences such as lost scholarship and grant opportunities, and even a suspended driver’s license.

This is why some public health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics see decriminalization as the perfect compromise between criminalization and legalization. Last year, the World Health Organization and United Nations also both announced their support for the decriminalization of drugs for personal use. 

From Switzerland to Russia, countries around the world have made the decision to decriminalize cannabis. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs and has since seen major declines in drug crime, overdoses, HIV infections and more. Jamaica decriminalized cannabis in 2015. And just last week, Israel approved a bill to do the same. 

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