Study: Youth Marijuana Use Not Up Since Uruguay Legalized Marijuana in 2013

According to a new study, even though Uruguay legalized marijuana for all uses for those 18+ seven years ago (the first country to do so), youth marijuana use in the country is not higher than it was prior to legalization.

“In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis, instituting a non-commercial state regulatory model of production and supply”, states the study’s absract. “This study provides the first empirical evidence on its impacts on adolescent use of cannabis and related risks.”

In an article to be published in next month’s edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy, the researchers offer what they describe as the “first empirical evidence on [the law’s] impacts on adolescent use of cannabis and related risks.”

Researchers used “a generalization of the synthetic control method (SCM) to estimate the impact of legalization in Uruguay on adolescent past year and month cannabis use, perceived availability of cannabis and perceived risk of cannabis use. We compare biennial high school student self-reported survey data from Montevideo and regions in the interior of Uruguay post-legalization (2014–2018) and post initial implementation (2015–2018) to a synthetic counterfactual constructed using a weighted combination of 15 control regions in Chile.”

They found “no evidence of an impact on cannabis use or the perceived risk of use. We find an increase in student perception of cannabis availability (58% observed vs. 51% synthetic control) following legalization.”



The study concludes by stating that “Our findings provide some support for the thesis that Uruguay’s state regulatory approach to cannabis supply may minimize the impact of legalization on adolescent cannabis use. At the same time, our study period represents a period of transition: pharmacy access, by far the most popular means of access, was not available until the summer of 2017. Additional study will be important to assess the longer-term impacts of the fully implemented legalization regime on substance use outcomes.”

The study’s abstract can be found below:

Background
In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis, instituting a non-commercial state regulatory model of production and supply. This study provides the first empirical evidence on its impacts on adolescent use of cannabis and related risks.



Methods
We use a generalization of the synthetic control method (SCM) to estimate the impact of legalization in Uruguay on adolescent past year and month cannabis use, perceived availability of cannabis and perceived risk of cannabis use. We compare biennial high school student self-reported survey data from Montevideo and regions in the interior of Uruguay post-legalization (2014–2018) and post initial implementation (2015–2018) to a synthetic counterfactual constructed using a weighted combination of 15 control regions in Chile.

Results
We find no evidence of an impact on cannabis use or the perceived risk of use. We find an increase in student perception of cannabis availability (58% observed vs. 51% synthetic control) following legalization.

Conclusion
Our findings provide some support for the thesis that Uruguay’s state regulatory approach to cannabis supply may minimize the impact of legalization on adolescent cannabis use. At the same time, our study period represents a period of transition: pharmacy access, by far the most popular means of access, was not available until the summer of 2017. Additional study will be important to assess the longer-term impacts of the fully implemented legalization regime on substance use outcomes.

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