Adolescent Cannabis Use During a Period of Rapid Policy Change: Evidence From the PATH Study

J Adolesc Health. 2022 Dec 5;S1054-139X(22)00705-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2022.10.010. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: To determine whether shifts in various state-level cannabis policies are associated with individual-level changes in adolescent cannabis use following implementation.

Methods: We use the restricted-access youth cohort of the PATH Study, a recent, longitudinal, and nationally representative dataset, to assess whether changes in cannabis policy affect youth cannabis use. Data include respondents aged 12 to 17 years across up to six repeated observations (N = 26,673). Hybrid (between-person and within-person) panel models are used to examine adolescent past-month cannabis use.

Results: Within-person effects showed that the odds of past-month cannabis use are lower (odds ratio [OR] = 0.632; p < .05) in years when a respondent's state allowed only cannabidiol (CBD) compared to years when the state had legalized medical cannabis. The odds of past-month cannabis use are lower during years when a respondent's state had decriminalized (OR = 0.617; p < .01) or criminalized (OR = 0.648; p < .05) adult recreational cannabis possession compared to years when it was legalized. These effects were robust to numerous controls, including time and state fixed effects. By contrast, significant between-person effects became nonsignificant with state fixed effects included, implying that state-level average use distinguishes average differences between states rather than policy.

Discussion: Liberalized cannabis policy is significantly associated with recent adolescent cannabis use. The most consequential policy shift associated with adolescent use is from either criminalization or decriminalization of cannabis possession to legalization, such that states making these changes should consider additional prevention efforts.

Keywords: Adolescent substance use; Cannabis policy; Cannabis use; Decriminalization; Legalization.