Is teen weed use affected by legalization? The data may surprise you

Cannabis legalization raises lots of questions for public officials, and keeping cannabis out of the local kids’ hands often earns top priority. The worry is nationwide. A 2023 Gallup poll showed that three out of four adults are concerned about youth and teen weed use.

In response, extensive regulations on dispensaries near schools, child-safe packaging, and highly prohibited advertising are commonplace for adult-use and medical states. Research continues to show these measures may be working.

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Legalization still doesn’t increase youth consumption

Adolescent cannabis consumption is linked to some poor outcomes, like reduced coordination, which is why it’s a main concern when regulating cannabis sales. Despite the fear, studies continue to show that there’s no connection between cannabis legalization and kids consuming weed.

The latest comes from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) by way of the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It used data from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, a self-reporting tool that seeks to understand more about kids in middle and high schools. The CDC report analyzed cannabis consumption among children in these grades from 2008 to 2021.

Since the first adult-use cannabis sale in 2014, consumption among Washington teens began trending down. From 2008 to 2012, the numbers were stable; around 20 percent of male students consumed cannabis, while about 15 percent of girls self-reported.

In 2014, the first dip was recorded in how many boys consumed (16 percent), but girls remained steady at 15 percent. By 2021, only seven percent of male students considered themselves cannabis users and nine percent of girls. The amount of King County school district students consuming cannabis shrunk by almost half in the time since adult-use legalization.

There are limitations, but also supporting studies

There are some limitations to this data. The fact is that it’s self-reported by kids who might fear getting in trouble may affect the results. Self-reporting teen weed use could lead to underreporting. No identifying information was collected while conducting the survey to combat this, but it may still deter honesty.

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Study authors also cite the rigid gender binary in the data, which uses genders assigned at birth and possibly misgenders trans and non-binary students. As of 2018, the survey includes more identities.

Despite its limitations, this is a solid look at how one population of teens responded to cannabis legalization. The verdict? Kids ended up reporting that they consumed weed less in a legal landscape.

Similar results were calculated a few weeks ago in another self-reporting teen cannabis study, this time out of Canada. Since the 2018-19 school year, 41 percent fewer students shared that they consume weed compared to 2020-21. Results from each study are similar despite being in different countries with individual regulations.

Do more kids smoke weed after cannabis legalization?

The primary concern when legalizing cannabis is often the children. Will they be accidentally consuming THC gummies? Are they going to be negatively impacted by weed advertising? Does legalization make more kids want to get high? According to research from multiple parties, the answer to that last one may be no.

But parents should still keep locking products in cannabis stash boxes and holding an open discourse about cannabis with children and teens. The answer seems three pronged. When conscious parents at home, educated school teachers, and laws set out to protect the children combine–cannabis legalization may not increase teen weed use.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.