Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How do teenagers get marijuana and alcohol?

Marijuana retail stores are expected to start opening in our state next week.  As an adolescent drug use prevention coalition, Prevention WINS is interested in how youth access drugs, including marijuana.  What we know is that minors who use alcohol and marijuana mostly get the drugs from their friends.

Results from the 2012 Seattle Public Schools Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) indicate that most high school students who use marijuana get it from friends.  This is true for alcohol, as well.  Most Seattle high school students who use alcohol report getting it from a friend or at a party, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.

When marijuana stores open, it is expected that teenagers will get marijuana like they currently get alcohol: socially, including through family.  Increased access among adults who are willing to sell or give marijuana to teenagers leads to increased distribution to teenagers.  Increased parental use means more marijuana in the home for teenagers to take with or without permission.    

The YRBS results support this.  When high school marijuana users were asked if they ever used marijuana that came from of dispensary, 39% said yes and 23% were not sure, despite only 6% buying it from a dispensary.  Among those who said yes, it is likely that an adult or friend with a medical marijuana authorization provided the drug to them after purchasing it at a dispensary.  

Will marijuana stores sell to minors?  Likely not, at least as this new market gets up and running.  If the legal recreational market is to be successful, businesses need to show that they are responsible.  But adults who have easy access to marijuana, and teenagers who have medical marijuana authorizations, need to be held responsible, too, if distribution to minors is to be prevented.  

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