Ask an Expert: Will Legal Marijuana Mean More High High Schoolers?

By Dr. Richard Juman 12/20/16

There are even some indications that when marijuana becomes legal, it loses a bit of its “cool” factor.

A young person sitting on a wall with a bottle in one hand, cigarette in the other, exhaling smoke.
The future of our education?

I’m a school teacher in Massachusetts, where marijuana has just been legalized. Am I right to expect that there will be an increase in the number of students who are coming to class high?

Richard Juman, Psy D: The legalization of recreational marijuana use in Massachusetts went into effect on December 15, although there will not be any licensed marijuana shops in the state for over a year. That means that while it is legal to use marijuana, it is still not legal to sell it. The gap between legalization and commercial availability alone will likely prevent any increase in consumption. And once the law does go into effect, the sale of marijuana will be limited to adults 21 and over. It will also remain illegal to have any marijuana on school property in Massachusetts.

But the bottom line is that it’s likely—assuming that the outcome of legalization in Massachusetts is not dramatically different than in other states where it is already legal—that there will not be a significant difference in marijuana use even when it becomes commercially available. Generally, the legalization of marijuana in the USA not had a major impact on levels of use. And there are even some indications that when marijuana becomes legal, it loses a bit of its “cool” factor, which can reduce its attractiveness to young people.

But the most likely reason that legalization appears not to have much of an impact on rates of use is very simple: that it is already easy to get. People—adults or teens—who want to get their hands on pot generally don’t have much difficulty doing so.

So the good news is that the legalization of marijuana will likely have an insignificant impact on the number of students showing up to your class high. The bad news is that any use by teens is potentially problematic. We know that kids who start smoking pot at an early age tend to run into more problems with it down the road, and that serious use is associated with an increase in significant health problems as adults. I hope that your school has an effective counseling program to help any students that you are concerned about.

Richard Juman, PsyD


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