Should cannabis be made legal? And what impact would it have on the drug use of adolescents and young adults?
Since the 1920s with the passage of the first laws banning the sale or possession of cannabis, similar laws have been passed in most countries around the world. Though there have been prominent exceptions, possession of even small amounts of marijuana or hashish could mean harsh penalties depending on where the arrest occurred. Often enough, these harsh sentences were often justified with the familiar argument that marijuana was a "gateway drug" which needed to be banned to keep it from corrupting "impressionable" young people.
But the backlash is already setting in. Not only have medical marijuana programs and clinics been established in numerous countries (and 29 U.S. states to date), but some jurisdictions have gone even further. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the sale, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana and many other countries, including Canada, are expected to follow suit in the near future. Recreational marijuana use has also been made legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia with advocates in other states calling for the same.
Still, the issues surrounding marijuana legalization continue to be hotly debated, both at the federal level and in most states with stringent drug laws. Not surprisingly, politicians and activists opposing legalization are using recent statistics showing that marijuana use is on the rise among adolescents to push for a universal ban. On the other hand, surveys also show that this rising trend is due to changing attitudes and greater acceptance of marijuana use among adults. Given that research has consistently shown that marijuana use in adolescents can lead to cognitive problems since adolescent brains are still forming, it is likely more important than ever to understand how legalization of marijuana in adults can affect adolescent use.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.