What’s law got to do with it? Comparing rates of recreational marijuana use among justice-involved young adults after state-wide legalization
Laws legalizing recreational marijuana use have recently been passed in several states across the U.S., sparking debate about their impacts on marijuana use among adolescents and young adults. Critics are concerned that legalization will lead to increased use due to greater access to marijuana. Advocates, on the other hand, argue that legalization will reduce the “forbidden fruit” effect, leading to decreased use. To shed greater light on this debate, the present study investigates the impacts of legalization on marijuana use among young adults who have had prior experiences with the justice system. Importantly, young adults are at higher risk of marijuana use than any other age group and those who are involved in the justice system are at even greater risk. As such, we compare justice-system-involved (JSI) young adults in California (N = 396), where recreational marijuana use was recently legalized, to those in Pennsylvania (N = 372), where recreational use is still prohibited. Results indicate that rates of marijuana use increased significantly in both states, regardless of whether participants lived in a legalized state. While these findings are surprising, they suggest that increases in rates of marijuana use might be better explained by factors beyond legalization laws. In fact, these findings may indicate that increased state legalization of recreational marijuana use is giving rise to a culture of acceptance among JSI young adults.