SMOKE SIGNALS: Dr. Ester Choo, a researcher on substance abuse, says about 20 percent of high school students have used marijuana in the past month, about half of the lifetime use rate.
PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
By John Larrabee
Over the past few years 21 states have adopted laws allowing medical use of marijuana, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Seven more states are considering such legislation. Those changes to the once-taboo drug’s legal status have sparked concerns among parents and physicians that the new laws could lead to an increase in the number of teens using it.
That hasn’t happened, according to Dr. Esther Choo, a researcher on substance abuse and an emergency-room physician at Rhode Island Hospital. She is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University.
Choo is part of a team that’s been studying the social impact of medical-marijuana laws. After reviewing years of survey data from 10 states, the researchers concluded there’s been no increase in the number of teenage marijuana users in recent years.
PBN: Let’s be clear, this study focused on medical marijuana, not legalization, is that correct?
CHOO: That’s right, this only involved the legalization of medical marijuana. The laws in Colorado and Washington state regarding legalization of recreational marijuana are still so new there’s been no time to measure their impact.
PBN: What was the purpose of this study?
CHOO: With the new medical-marijuana laws in so many states, there have been concerns that the image would change, and the availability as well. The public perception has been that it would become more acceptable, and more young people would be using it. We wanted to find out if that actually happened.
PBN: How did you do this study? Did you survey teens?
CHOO: We used the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey, which is designed by the Centers for Disease Control and administered to high school students by the states. We looked at five states that had medical-marijuana laws, and made sure we had two cycles of survey data, from before and after the laws changed. Then we paired each state with a neighboring state that did not allow medical marijuana. We looked for states with borders that actually touched, so that we’d have a reasonable comparison group. We did an analysis that tried to isolate the effect of the laws. In none of the five pairings did we find that medical-marijuana laws lead to increased use among high school students.