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Study: Teen Marijuana Use And Crime Collapses As States Legalize

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The number of teens using and suffering from problems related to marijuana is falling at the same time more states are legalizing marijuana.

A study of more than 216,000 teens from across the country indicated a substantial fall in problems related to marijuana use.

Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the research shows teen marijuana use dropped 10 percent between 2002 and 2013, despite a string of states decriminalizing and legalizing weed, although the number of adults using has increased.

The research team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use over a 12-year time horizon for teens ages 12-17. Teens suffering from marijuana dependency or having trouble at school and in relationships plummeted by 24 percent over this period.

The number of teens who admitted using marijuana in the past 12 months was also lower in 2013 than it had been in 2002, falling by 10 percent. Fighting, crimes against property and selling drugs were also down.

“We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse,” said the study’s author Richard A. Grucza, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry. “We don’t know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization.” (RELATED: Study: Teen Marijuana Use Has No Link To Mental Health Problems)

“We don’t know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization.”

Grucza gathered the data as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on,” Grucza said. (RELATED: New Data Shows Legalization Had No Impact On Teen Marijuana Use)

“So it’s likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems — and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too.”

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