Does Having A Marijuana Dispensary Nearby Increase Teen Drug Use?

By Paul Fuhr 08/15/18

A new study explored how factors like proximity, price and product variety might influence adolescents to use marijuana.

Medical marijuana in a large jar at a legal marijuana dispensary.

Despite the increased availability of marijuana dispensaries, teens aren’t any more likely to smoke weed, a new study revealed. According to High Times, researchers from the University of California San Diego Department of Family Medicine and Public Health examined how factors like proximity, price and product variety might influence adolescents to use marijuana.

“There was no evidence supporting the associations of medical marijuana availability, price, or product variety around school with adolescents’ marijuana use and susceptibility to use,” the study’s authors wrote.

The number of dispensaries in any given neighborhood, nor a dispensary’s proximity to a school appeared to be contributing factors to teen marijuana use, the report indicated.

“Neither the product price nor the product variety in the dispensary nearest to school was associated with marijuana use or susceptibility to use,” the report added. “The results were robust to different specifications of medical marijuana measures.” 

Little to no research has been conducted on the possible connection between marijuana dispensaries and cannabis use, the researchers said, which makes their study as necessary as it is unique.

By contrast, there exists a significant amount of research in regards to the link between drug and alcohol availability, and teenagers’ choices to smoke or drink.

“Despite the strong relationship between retail outlets and alcohol and tobacco use documented by a number of studies, examination of the associations of medical marijuana dispensaries with marijuana use remains limited,” they wrote.

The study’s authors examined the responses of more than 46,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders (across 117 schools) who participated in the 2015-16 California Student Tobacco Survey. 

"For now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens' use of the drug,” Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, concluded earlier this year.

Hasin cited a report that examined teen marijuana use between 1991 and 2014, which compared teen pot use before and after medical marijuana was legalized in a given state.

Still, not everyone is convinced, PBS reported: a chorus of counselors, parents, physicians, and public health experts continue to sound off about the threat that legal marijuana poses for teenagers.

“Colorado and other states where marijuana is legal have crafted regulations holding dispensaries accountable for selling their products to minors, and sent out educational messages aimed at preventing kids from gaining access to marijuana,” PBS noted.

Colorado pediatrician Christian Thurstone says that he’s observed a steadily growing marijuana addiction rate among teenagers ever since 2010, when private companies were given the green light to market and sell medical marijuana.

In fact, even if the number of teenagers using pot remained flat year over year in Colorado, Thurstone said, the rate of teenagers seeking addiction treatment would climb no matter what.

Unfortunately, not enough recovery resources exist for teenagers, PBS noted, claiming that only one in 10 people with an addiction ever seek treatment.

“We just need more [treatment options],” Thurstone said. “We’re just scratching the surface, but we may be doing better than one in 10.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.