Last updated on: 5/30/2008 | Author:

Has Legalizing Medical Marijuana Led to Increased Drug Abuse among Children and Adolescents?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) noted in its Aug. 24, 2004 website article titled “Marijuana and Teens: Fact Sheet”:

“Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among America’s youth. Among kids who use drugs, approximately 60 percent use marijuana only. Of the 14.6 million past month marijuana users in 2002, about one third, or 4.8 million persons, used it on 20 or more days in the past month.

Between 1991 and 2001, the percentage of 8th graders who used marijuana doubled from one in ten to one in five. From 2001 to 2003, current marijuana use declined 11 percent. This is the first decline in youth drug use of such a magnitude in more than a decade. Kids are using marijuana at an earlier age. In the late 1960s fewer than half of those using marijuana for the first time were under 18. By 2001, about two-thirds (67 percent) of marijuana users were younger than 18.”

Aug. 24, 2004

PRO (yes)


The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) spokesman Scott Burns stated in an Oct. 6, 2004 article by Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press:

“Legalizing medical marijuana in Montana will send the wrong message to kids about drug use.

The debate is about our kids. The debate is about the greater good for our society and what kind of message we’re sending. And we don’t need to go out of our way to help our kids get addicted to drugs…

If kids see marijuana as a medicine, they’re apt to dismiss its harms. Among those are effects on the respiratory system and impaired judgment…

If we make it acceptable in society to smoke dope, our children are more inclined to do that.”

Oct. 6, 2004


The Drug Free America Foundation stated in its 2004 article on its website “Medical Excuse Marijuana”:

“Children are most at risk from legalization and the accompanying availability of recreational drugs.

If drugs become more available, acceptable and cheap, they will draw in greater numbers of vulnerable youth. And because of marketing tactics of drug promoters and the major decline in drug use in the 1990s (due in great part to antidrug, education and awareness campaigns), there is a growing perception among young people today that drugs are harmless. A decade ago, for example, 79 percent of 12th graders thought regular marijuana use was harmful; only 58 percent do so today.

Because peer pressure is such a factor in inducing kids to experiment with drugs, the way kids perceive the risks of drug use is critical. Legalizing smoked marijuana, giving it the government’s stamp of approval, sends the message to kids that drug use is not only harmless, but normal. This is precisely the opposite message we should be conveying.”



Sue Rusche, Founder and President of National Families in Action, wrote the following for the Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Researcher, published on Feb. 22, 2002:

“California voters passed Proposition 215, the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative, in November 1996.

The issue received intense press coverage and California’s teenagers got the message: their past-month marijuana use increased by nearly one-third that year, from 6.5% to 9.2% according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

Although use declined the next year, it has increased every year since then. The figures are 1995–6.5%, 1996–9.2%, 1997–6.8%, 1998–7.4%, and 1999–8.4%.”

Feb. 22, 2002

CON (no)


Joycelyn Elders, MD, former US Surgeon General, wrote in a Mar. 26, 2004 editorial published in The Providence Journal:

“That fear [that medical marijuana laws will increase teen use of marijuana], raised in 1996, when California passed the first effective medical-marijuana law, has not come true.

According to the official California Student Survey teen marijuana use in California rose steadily from 1990 to 1996, but began falling immediately after the medical-marijuana law was passed.

Among ninth graders, marijuana use in the last six months fell by more than 40 percent from 1995-96 to 2001-02 (the most recent available figures).”

Mar. 26, 2004


Mitch Earleywine, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, and Karen O’Keefe, JD, Attorney and Legislative Analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, stated in their Sep. 2005 report “Marijuana Use by Young People: The Impact Of State Medical Marijuana Laws”:

“Nine years after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law, California’s Prop. 215, a considerable body of data shows that no state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an increase in youth marijuana use since their law’s enactment. All have reported overall decreases of more than the national average decreases — exceeding 50% in some age groups — strongly suggesting that enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not increase teen marijuana use….

When states consider proposals to allow the medical use of marijuana under state law, the concern often arises that such laws might ‘send the wrong message’ and therefore cause an increase in marijuana use among young people.

The available evidence strongly suggests that this hypothesis is incorrect and that enactment of state medical marijuana laws has not increased adolescent marijuana use.”

Sep. 2005 - 2005 Teen Use Report


Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a marijuana law reform advocacy organization, told in a Dec. 20, 2001 email:

“The 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicates that medical marijuana reform does not lead to increased non-medical marijuana use.

Despite a nationwide debate about the medical use of marijuana that has been making headlines since 1996, the survey found that ‘past month’ marijuana use in 1998 — particularly among young people — dropped from 1997 and was at the same level as in 1995.

Despite the fact that since 1996, patients in California have been allowed to grow and use marijuana upon their doctors’ recommendation, there were no statistically significant differences in reported marijuana usage rates among 12- to 17-year-olds in California than in the rest of the nation.

These findings should dispel the myth that medical marijuana sends the wrong message and leads to increased non-medical marijuana use. Citizens across the country, including teenagers understand the difference between medicine and drug abuse.

[Note: MPP issued a December 2006 report, “Does Prohibition of Marijuana for Adults Curb Use by Adolescents?,” which showed that marijuana-related arrests increased from 400,000 in 1975 to 800,000 in 2005 while the percentage of 12th graders who said marijuana was “very easy” or “fairly easy” to get remained 80-90% for the same time period. On Dec. 18, 2006 independently verified this data using the FBI’s “Uniform Crime Reports” and the Department of Health & Human Services’ “Monitoring the Future” reports.]”

Dec. 20, 2001