Association Between Recreational Marijuana Legalization in the United States and Changes in Marijuana Use and Cannabis Use Disorder From 2008 to 2016

JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Feb 1;77(2):165-171. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3254.


Importance: Little is known about changes in marijuana use and cannabis use disorder (CUD) after recreational marijuana legalization (RML).

Objectives: To examine the associations between RML enactment and changes in marijuana use, frequent use, and CUD in the United States from 2008 to 2016.

Design, setting, and participants: This survey study used repeated cross-sectional survey data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2008-2016) conducted in the United States among participants in the age groups of 12 to 17, 18 to 25, and 26 years or older.

Interventions: Multilevel logistic regression models were fit to obtain estimates of before-vs-after changes in marijuana use among respondents in states enacting RML compared to changes in other states.

Main outcomes and measures: Self-reported past-month marijuana use, past-month frequent marijuana use, past-month frequent use among past-month users, past-year CUD, and past-year CUD among past-year users.

Results: The study included 505 796 respondents consisting of 51.51% females and 77.24% participants 26 years or older. Among the total, 65.43% were white, 11.90% black, 15.36% Hispanic, and 7.31% of other race/ethnicity. Among respondents aged 12 to 17 years, past-year CUD increased from 2.18% to 2.72% after RML enactment, a 25% higher increase than that for the same age group in states that did not enact RML (odds ratio [OR], 1.25; 95% CI, 1.01-1.55). Among past-year marijuana users in this age group, CUD increased from 22.80% to 27.20% (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.01-1.59). Unmeasured confounders would need to be more prevalent in RML states and increase the risk of cannabis use by 1.08 to 1.11 times to explain observed results, indicating results that are sensitive to omitted variables. No associations were found among the respondents aged 18 to 25 years. Among respondents 26 years or older, past-month marijuana use after RML enactment increased from 5.65% to 7.10% (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.16-1.40), past-month frequent use from 2.13% to 2.62% (OR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.08-1.41), and past-year CUD from 0.90% to 1.23% (OR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.08-1.71); these results were more robust to unmeasured confounding. Among marijuana users in this age group, past-month frequent marijuana use and past-year CUD did not increase after RML enactment.

Conclusions and relevance: This study's findings suggest that although marijuana legalization advanced social justice goals, the small post-RML increase in risk for CUD among respondents aged 12 to 17 years and increased frequent use and CUD among adults 26 years or older in this study are a potential public health concern. To undertake prevention efforts, further studies are warranted to assess how these increases occur and to identify subpopulations that may be especially vulnerable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Use / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Use / legislation & jurisprudence
  • State Government
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult