SCIENCE & HEALTH: Rhode Island Survey Uncovers Decreased Youth Marijuana Consumption in 2022 Despite Easing COVID Restrictions and Legalization

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Amid Legalization and Post-COVID Easing, Youth Cannabis Use Sees Substantial Decline in Rhode Island in 2022 Compared to Two Years Prior, According to Recent State Analysis.

As Rhode Island embraced legalization and lifted the COVID-related social isolation measures, a notable development emerged: youth engagement with marijuana experienced a significant drop in 2022 compared to the preceding two years, as unveiled by a recent state-conducted investigation.

The Rhode Island Student Survey, a comprehensive endeavor orchestrated by the state’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), encompassed over 20,000 high school students across 23 districts, delving into substance use patterns and broader social concerns.

Even as a wave of states embraced cannabis legalization, including Rhode Island in 2022, a curious trend emerged: the cannabis utilization rates among teenagers underwent a downward trajectory. While this phenomenon has been observable for the past decade, experts attribute the sharper declines witnessed in 2020 and 2021, in part, to the seclusion brought about by lockdown mandates associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

In light of this, one might have anticipated a resurgence in marijuana consumption as students reverted to in-person learning in 2022. However, the fresh Rhode Island data presents a compelling narrative of a “statistically significant decrease” in cannabis, alcohol, and e-cigarette usage among high school students.

The Rhode Island study’s findings are particularly striking: the percentage of students using marijuana within the last 30 days stood at 15% in 2022, a decrease from 17.2% in 2020. Moreover, about 15% of students had engaged with marijuana by the age of 16, a contrast to the 20% reported in 2020. Lifetime usage among high school students experienced a similar dip, shifting from 28% in 2020 to 23% in 2022.

Despite Rhode Island’s legalization of marijuana in 2022, with adult possession becoming legal in May and the commencement of retail operations in December, the data revealed that students perceived it as more challenging to access the substance. This perception aligns with the delay in the launch of recreational retailers until December 2022, a period subsequent to the survey’s completion in June. Nonetheless, the state’s existing medical cannabis program, along with its adjacency to neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts that had already embraced adult-use legalization, could account for the perceived reduction in ease of access.

The study’s results challenge the assumptions held in some quarters that cannabis legalization among adults would invariably lead to a surge in adolescent usage. Multiple surveys and studies, including those funded or conducted by governmental bodies, consistently refute this claim.

For instance, a study backed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in the past year found that state-level cannabis legalization did not correlate with heightened youth consumption. The study showed that adolescents who spent a substantial part of their teenage years under legalization demonstrated similar likelihood of cannabis usage at age 15 as those with limited exposure to legalization.

These trends defy a prominent argument against marijuana legalization, which often suggests that such policies would trigger elevated youth consumption. The broader implication is that, contrary to such contentions, evidence and analyses consistently suggest that cannabis legalization for adults does not lead to a corresponding surge in underage use.

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