Study: Washington Teens Not Using More Marijuana Following Legalization

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Study: Washington Teens Not Using More Marijuana Following Legalization

The legalization of marijuana in Washington State is not associated with an increase in marijuana use by most teens, according to a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health.

For the study researchers from Washington State University, the University of Massachusetts, and the Colorado School of Public Health assessed trends in teen marijuana use and employment in the years immediately prior to and immediately following the enactment of retail marijuana sales (2010 to 2016), reports NORML in a news release.

The study found that “marijuana use decreased significantly among working and non-working 8th and 10th graders.” Marijuana use similarly declined among 12th graders who were not employed, while among 12th graders who were employed more than eleven hours per week marijuana use actually increased over the study period, though just slightly. The study’s authors acknowledged that this latter finding was not unexpected because “the workplace may expose adolescents to peer or adult coworkers’ potentially unhealthy behaviors, including substance use.” Authors further acknowledged that working youth were also more likely to have reported using cannabis prior to the passage of legalization.

The full text of the study, titled “Employment and marijuana use among Washington state adolescents before and after legalization of retail marijuana,” appears in The Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study’s full abstract can be found below:

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The purpose of the study was to describe associations between employment and marijuana use among adolescents 2 years before passage of 2012 ballot initiative and 2 years after the implementation of retail recreational marijuana sales took place in Washington.


We used 2010 and 2016 data from Washington’s statewide school-based Healthy Youth Survey, which is completed by more than 76,000 youth annually and representative of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in public schools. We used “difference-in-differences” regression to estimate the odds of current, past 30-day marijuana use by working status and hours worked per week compared with nonworking youth.


Working adolescents in all grades had higher prevalence of recent marijuana use compared with nonworking adolescents. Youth working in formal settings, such as retail and service sectors, were more likely to use marijuana than nonworking and youth working in informal settings, such as babysitting. Between 2010 and 2016, marijuana use decreased significantly among working and nonworking 8th and 10th graders. Among working 12th graders, marijuana use increased significantly over time relative to nonworking youth (adjusted odds ratio: 1.34, 95% confidence interval: 1.22–1.48). Associations were stronger for youth who worked more hours per week.


Working youth were more likely to use marijuana before and after Washington’s legalization of retail marijuana. Legalization was associated with increases in marijuana use specifically among 12th-grade working youth. States legalizing marijuana may consider implementing interventions to support healthy behaviors among working youth.


The findings are similar to survey data released by the federal government in late 2017, which found that the current rate of marijuana use among Colorado and Washington teens is now lower than it was prior to the states legalizing marijuana for adult use. The report found that the rate of past-month marijuana use by individuals ages 12-17 dropped nearly 20% from 11.13% in 2014-2015 to 9.08% in 2015-2016.

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