Ever wonder if having retail storefronts selling recreational cannabis products has an effect on youth in the community? Does adolescent use of cannabis increase or are youth attitudes about marijuana different in places with brick and mortar storefronts selling and marketing THC vapes, candy edibles and THC infused sodas?
The simple answer is yes.
Recent research by the USC Keck School of Medicine (2022) reveals that local policies in California which allow cannabis retail stores have a real world impact on youth marijuana use. In jurisdictions with recreational retail cannabis stores, adolescent 30-day use of cannabis is significantly higher. Adolescent attitudes about use of the drug are different, with a decrease in the perceived harm in the effects of the drug. Teens also report a perceived increase in availability of marijuana products in these locales.
The results are not surprising since they confirm what we know from tobacco retail outlets. As the USC study states “These findings are consistent with adolescent tobacco product use, where evidence supports a positive association between tobacco retail outlet density and smoking behaviors among youth.” USC researchers suggest this data presents a “warning signal” that should be considered when assessing whether or not to approve a local cannabis retailer ordinance.
So far, Marin communities have heeded the warning and taken a cautious approach to allowing cannabis businesses, including retail stores, in their jurisdictions. We know from experience with alcohol and tobacco that products intended for adults (21+) are still accessible and normalized among youth.
As opposed to adults, when adolescents and young adults use the new, popular and flavored high potency THC cannabis products (up to 99% THC) the effects are much different from those of the old “Woodstock variety” pot (4-7% THC). Adolescent brains are undergoing a surge in development which makes them a particularly vulnerable “work in progress”. Scientific research shows today’s extra strong THC vapes and “dabs” can alter a youth’s brain development and functional brain connectivity, leading to cognitive impairment, future psychiatric symptoms (including psychosis and suicidal ideation), and increased risk of substance addiction. And the higher the THC, the more addictive the cannabis products are to youth.
USC’s research reveals that community decisions have an impact on the community’s youth. Inviting retail cannabis outlets places our county’s youth at increased risk of the acute and long-term effects of today’s high potency THC products. And the population that is at most risk of harm from retail outlets cannot vote. As citizens we must all educate ourselves on today’s marijuana and balance adult access with what is best for the community as a whole. Communities can avoid further commercialization, access by youth, normalization, and harms to the health and wellbeing of local youth.