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Legalizing Marijuana in the State of Washington and How It’s Affecting Young People

Since the legalization of marijuana in Washington State was put into place in 2014, the world has watched to see what effects it will have.

The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana in Washington on Young People

Decriminalization on a worldwide scale is being considered for a variety of reasons so many countries and other states want to see how marijuana legalization will work out. There has been a lot of optimism about the outcome so far with opposition parties being proved wrong about their previous concerns. Statistics have shown that the legalization of marijuana positively improved usage in many ways. It’s still too early to tell so studies aren’t considered complete but there is a mixture of positive and negative outcomes. There has been very little evidence of an increase in marijuana usage in youth and police are spending less time arresting people for possessing a small quantity of marijuana. Another upside is the $70 million worth of taxes the state of Washington made in the first year. At the same time, Washington is experiencing addiction treatment challenges. Keep in mind that marijuana is still a drug and has proven to cause addictive behavior in some users. The consensus so far is that youth have not been affected statistically by the legalization of marijuana in WA. There are more variables than just how many young people are smoking weed recreationally, however. One of the main concerns is that youth sees marijuana in a different light which could cause more usage overall. In Washington, they bunch a DWI in as a DUI so youth driving while high will never be an examined statistic. More in-depth studies and questions might make you reconsider the effects of legalizing marijuana.

Age Allowance in WA State for Possessing Marijuana

Despite the legalization of marijuana in Washington, there are still laws that protect youth. Individuals who are under 21 are not allowed to possess marijuana. Those who are of age can possess only a certain amount of cannabis for personal use which includes:

  • Up to 1 ounce of cannabis
  • Up to 16 ounces of marijuana-infused solid products
  • Up to 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid products

What Statistics Say About Youth and Marijuana Use in the state of WA

At the Narcotics Anonymous world convention, statistics show that 68% of people in the world use marijuana. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been collecting data on how youth is being affected by the legalization of marijuana in Washington. They had previously reported that marijuana use among young people had not risen dramatically since it became legal. It did rise among adults over the age of 25 by 1% which some believe is changing the perception of marijuana use among youth. SAMHSA shows that on a national scale, 7.4% of young people that are between 12 and 17 years old smoked pot as of 2014. This shows an increase 0.3% from the year before but SAMHSA says it’s not relevant statistically because it’s still much less than in 2002. Data from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey states that in a 2016 survey, marijuana usage has remained unchanged over the past decade. The results of the study included 230,000 students that ranged from grade 8 to grade 12. When marijuana shops opened in 2014, statistics showed that marijuana use of young people remained steady. Students using marijuana in a 30 day period were as follows:

  • 6% of students in grade 8 and 12 reported past month use.
  • 17% of students in grade 10.
  • 26% of students in grade 12.

Legalized marijuana shops haven’t allowed kids to buy more easily. Students that participated in the study said that cannabis was just as easy to buy now than it had been before in the state of Washington. The statistics that are showing in Washington are similar to that of other states who legalized marijuana previously. After legalization, the marijuana use amongst young people remained the same or slightly declined.

Opposing Information about The Effects of Legalized Marijuana in Washington for Youth

Information from SAMHSA and other corroborating information should be interpreted lightly as the results of surveys are too broad. The findings of these studies are puzzling. Authors stated that the people in grade 12 who were involved in the study were old enough that they had formed beliefs about marijuana use before it was legalized. In Washington state, the marijuana market didn’t become legal until the halfway point of 2014. They also legalized it with limitations at the beginning. The studies that have stated there is no effect on youth in Washington with the legalization of marijuana may be misleading. The legalization effects weren’t truly felt until after the studies were complete.

The Change of Perception for Teens in Washington Due to Marijuana Legalization

A study about the legalization of marijuana in Washington by the University of California Davis School of Medicine said that the reduced stigma and perceived risk of use has changed. Young people don’t view cannabis use as dangerous or risky now that it’s been legalized. This is believed to be one of the reasons that younger people are trying marijuana now. It may also be the reason they have problems with other drugs, bunching all narcotics together as harmless. Marijuana is still as harmful as it once was but young people aren’t taking that into consideration. The fact is, marijuana is an addictive drug and young people are especially susceptible to getting hooked. Rates of marijuana use did increase by 3% among students in grade 8 and 10 after it was legalized in Washington. This is attributed to their belief that marijuana is safe to use. The change for youth in grade 12, as well as adults, remained unchanged after legalization. The study lead by Magdalene Cerdá examined the before and after effects legalizing of recreational marijuana use. Cerdá and coauthors used data from 254,000 students in all grades of high school. They compared before the recreational legalization of marijuana (2010-2012) and after legalization in Washington (2013-2015) along with other states that haven’t legalized marijuana. They found that students in grade 8 and 10 believed marijuana is less harmful by 14.2%. Compared to states that haven’t legalized marijuana, which is 4.1%. Magdalene Cerdá recently found that marijuana use connects to problems during midlife for young people who were heavy users of pot. Authors came up with some explanations as to why there was an increase for students in grade 8 and 10. Legalization in Washington may have seen increased availability through third-party purchases. Now that adults can so easily purchase marijuana, it’s quite possible they are then dealing it out to youth. The question is, how can you seek help for a family members’ misuse of marijuana when there’s no supporting information to explain the risks. The study does ask people to question the findings of official reports that state only positive outcomes have come from the legalization of marijuana in Washington.

The Concerns for Youth Opponents Have about Marijuana Legalization in Washington

The reason opponents are concerned about cannabis being legalized is the effects it could have on youth. Nobody believes America will be a more positive place if everybody is smoking pot and this is especially true with the youth. When young people use marijuana, the developing mind is said to be more vulnerable to the negative effects. During the adolescent and young adulthood, ages is when neural layers that support the development of cognition are working the hardest. If there is a risk of impairments to proper thinking, this would be the age of vulnerability. Currently, statistics show that marijuana use disorder makes up for a quarter of drug treatment admissions in Washington. Along with alcohol and opioid drugs, marijuana is already causing problems to residents in Washington. The concern is that these problems will increase due to legalization in WA state. If the government has approved the legalization, will it be acceptable to allow youth the abuse of marijuana without intervening? This might be one of the main underlying issues.

Will Marijuana Become More Affordable for Youth Due to Legalization in the State of Washington?

Legalization of marijuana in WA state hasn’t shown signs of causing an increase of usage in young people as of yet. Cost is believed to be a factor because most young people don’t have the funds to support the habit. The concern is that, as the marijuana industry continues to grow across the U.S., it could drive cannabis prices down. Experts in drug policy warn that if prices plummet, it could lead to higher usage in all age groups. This is based on the history of alcohol and tobacco trends over the past decades. While there has been no definitive negative impact on youth in the state of Washington due to legalizing marijuana, this law has only recently been put in place. Legalizing marijuana has changed the way youth view using it in Washington which can cause a change in behavior that won’t be seen until much later. JAMA Pediatrics believes that Washington should invest in substance-abuse prevention for teens as part of the legalization. Another theory is that by keeping marijuana prices from falling will prevent teens from using marijuana on a regular basis.

View Sources:

Washington State Department of Health – Healthy Youth Survey. Retrieved from, Wiley Online Library (18 January 2016) Legalization of cannabis in Washington State: how is it going? Retrieved from, The Jama Network (February 1, 2017) Cerdá M, Wall M, Feng T, Keyes KM, Sarvet A, Schulenberg J, O’Malley PM, Pacula RL, Galea S, Hasin DS. Association of State Recreational Marijuana Laws With Adolescent Marijuana Use. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(2):142-149. Retrieved from, EurekaAlert (27-DEC-2016) Did teen perception, use of marijuana change after recreational use legalized? THE JAMA NETWORK JOURNALS. Retrieved from,

Wiley Online Library (18 January 2016) Legalization of cannabis in Washington State: how is it going? Retrieved from,

The Jama Network (February 1, 2017) Cerdá M, Wall M, Feng T, Keyes KM, Sarvet A, Schulenberg J, O’Malley PM, Pacula RL, Galea S, Hasin DS. Association of State Recreational Marijuana Laws With Adolescent Marijuana Use. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(2):142-149. Retrieved from,

EurekaAlert (27-DEC-2016) Did teen perception, use of marijuana change after recreational use legalized? THE JAMA NETWORK JOURNALS. Retrieved from,