Trends in Perceived Access to Marijuana Among Adolescents in the United States: 2002-2015

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017 Sep;78(5):771-780. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2017.78.771.


Objective: There is concern that changes in marijuana-related policy and public opinion may lead to increased access to marijuana among young people in the United States. However, little research has been conducted on changes in youth's perceptions of marijuana access, and studies have yet to systematically examine trends in perceived access across key sociodemographic and externalizing behavioral subgroups.

Method: Using population-based data collected between 2002 and 2015 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we examined trends in perceived marijuana access among non-Hispanic White, African American, and Hispanic adolescents (ages 12-17, n = 221,412). Following the trend analysis method outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we conducted logistic regression analyses to test for secular trends.

Results: Between 2002 and 2015, we observed a 27% overall reduction in the relative proportion of adolescents ages 12-17-and a 42% reduction among those ages 12-14-reporting that it would be "very easy" to obtain marijuana. This pattern was uniformly observed among youth in all sociodemographic subgroups (i.e., across age, gender, race/ethnicity, household income) and among youth reporting involvement/no involvement in most measures of substance use (alcohol, marijuana) and delinquency (handgun carrying, attacks). However, perceived very easy access remained stable among youth reporting tobacco use and criminal justice system involvement.

Conclusions: Despite the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in some states, our findings suggest that, with the notable exception of adolescent tobacco users and juvenile offenders, perceptions that marijuana would be very easy to obtain are on the decline among American youth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / trends
  • Perception
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States
  • White People / statistics & numerical data