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Prohibitionists argue legalization makes it easy for teens to get pot. New data says otherwise

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One of the most common claims made by people who oppose marijuana reform is that legalization will make it easier for teenagers to access the plant. However, a new study out of Canada may help shut down the argument once and for all.

The paper, published in the Archive of Public Health, determined that fewer young people believe it’s easy to access cannabis since nationwide legalization took effect in 2018. The prevalence of teen marijuana use has also declined in this period, according to the analysis.

Researchers sifted through annual self-reported data collected from thousands of high school students from Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Teenagers were asked: “Do you think it would be difficult or easy for you to get marijuana if you wanted some?” They were also asked if they currently consumed cannabis.

The number of students who believe cannabis is easy to access decreased by close to 27 percent between the 2018/19 school year and the 2020/21 school year. A little over half of Canadian high school students thought marijuana was easy to obtain in 2018/19, shrinking to just over 37 percent in 2020/21.

Current cannabis use also decreased by nearly 41 percent over the same time period. According to the survey, roughly 7.5 of Canadian teens regularly use marijuana.

“Our data suggest that in our large samples of youth, perceptions of cannabis access as being easy has declined in prevalence since legalization,” the study authors wrote. 

The figures are in line with similar research conducted in the United States showing a decline in adolescent cannabis access. However, the Canadian researchers expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role in the shifting numbers. They called for continued analysis to determine causality. 

Legalization proponents argue that a regulated market ensures cannabis stays out of the hands of youth. Preliminary data suggests this may be the case, but as markets mature, more will be revealed about teenage perceptions around the plant. For now, prohibitionists may need to seek alternative arguments in their quest to keep cannabis illegal. 


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