Legalization of marijuana doesn't lead to an increase in teen use, an MSU Sociology PhD student has found

September 16, 2021 - Karessa Weir

In a research paper published Sept. 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open, Sam Safford and three other authors share research that shows the use of marijuana in high school students did not increase following the passage of recreational marijuana legislation in those states.

In fact, the data shows that legalization may lead to a decrease in marijuana use by teens. 

"In the fully adjusted models, medical marijuana law adoption was associated with a 6 percent decrease in the odds of current marijuana use and a 7 percent decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use." the study states.

Safford, who joined MSU this semester, published the paper with Drs. D. Mark Anderson (Montana State University-Bozeman), Daniel I. Rees (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid) and Joseph J. Sabia (Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies, San Diego State University).

The group used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the period 1993-2017, including from 10 states where data was available both before and after those states legalized recreational marijuana use.

The average year of the respondants in the survey was 15.9 years and 51.4 percent reported as female. Based on the data, the group found recreational marijuana legalization "was not associated with current marijuana use ... or frequent marijuana use."

Researchers expect to be able to draw firmer conclusions about the relationship between recreational marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use but for now "there is little evidence that RMLs or MMLs encourage youth marijuana use."

Safford received their B.A. in Economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and their M.A. in Economics from San Diego State University (SDSU). After graduating with their masters, Sam worked as a research assistant at the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at SDSU under the supervision of Dr. Sabia. There they conducted research in the fields of health economics and public policy, including projects that seek to examine the efficacy of administrative responses to COVID-19 aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic. Sam’s research interests focus primarily on how queer individuals navigate the health system, the inequalities they face when interacting with providers, and how their identities impact individual sexual, physical, and mental health.

JAMA Network Open is an international, peer-reviewed, open access, general medical journal that publishes research on clinical care, innovation in health care, health policy, and global health across all health disciplines and countries for clinicians, investigators, and policy makers. JAMA Network Open is a member of the JAMA Network, a consortium of peer-reviewed, general medical and specialty publications.