Study: Cannabis Decriminalization Laws Work Without Increasing Youth Access

A recent study by Washington University found a significant drop in adult and youth cannabis arrests and no increase in cannabis use among youths in five states that adopted cannabis decriminalization laws between 2008 and 2014.

A team of researchers from around the country compared federal arrests data and state youth risk surveys of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maryland with other states that did not adopt major cannabis policy changes during the sample period. The decrease in youth arrests was significant with a 75% decrease accompanied by a similar decrease in adult arrest rates.

“Our results provide additional evidence that decriminalization can be accomplished without an increase in youth drug use. These findings are consistent with the interpretation that decriminalization policies likely succeed with respect to their intended effects and that their short-term unintended consequences are minimal.” — WU researchers, in their report

The researchers stressed the need for more investigation into the effect decriminalization has on arrests rates in the long term and suggest their research should be replicated. They also point out decriminalization may not decrease the rate of cannabis enforcement through civil penalties.

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