Public Health Implications of Cannabis Legalization: An Exploration of Adolescent Use and Evidence-Based Interventions

Joseph Donnelly, Michael Young, Brenda Marshall, Michael L. Hecht, Elena Saldutti

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

6 Scopus citations


This article examines the relaxation of state marijuana laws, changes in adolescent use of marijuana, and implications for drug education. Under federal law, use of marijuana remains illegal. In spite of this federal legislation, as of 1 June 2021, 36 states, four territories and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws. There are 17 states, two territories and the District of Columbia that have also passed recreational marijuana laws. One of the concerns regarding the enactment of legislation that has increased access to marijuana is the possibility of increased adolescent use of marijuana. While there are documented benefits of marijuana use for certain medical conditions, we know that marijuana use by young people can interfere with brain development, so increased marijuana use by adolescents raises legitimate health concerns. A review of results from national survey data, including CDC’s YRBS, Monitoring the Future, and the National Household Survey on Drug Use, allows us to document changes in marijuana use over time. Increased legal access to marijuana also has implications for educational programming. A “Reefer Madness” type educational approach no longer works (if it ever did). We explore various strategies, including prevention programs for education about marijuana, and make recommendations for health educators.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3336
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Adolescent cannabis use
  • Cannabis and health implications
  • Cannabis and mental health
  • Evidence-based interventions
  • Recreational marijuana legalization


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