What impact may authorization of recreational cannabis in Oregon have on teen cannabis use? Following authorization of recreational cannabis, no significant changes in the numbers of youth who used cannabis occurred, yet increases in the frequency of use by youth who were already using cannabis were found.

For teenagers who had tried cannabis by 8th grade, the frequency of use during the following year increased 26% more for those who were in 9th grade after cannabis was legalized compared to those who were in 9th grade prior to authorization.

The study examining substance use among Oregon 8th and 9th graders was already underway and investigators were able to collect data about youth cannabis use before and after authorization. Additionally, Oregon allowed counties and cities to prohibit cannabis sales, so investigators examined the impact of community sales policy on teenagers’ use.

Teenagers from 11 rural and suburban middle schools in seven Oregon school districts answered surveys about their cannabis use, attitudes towards cannabis, and willingness to use cannabis. Their parents answered questions about their own use of cannabis.

The results indicate there may be an immediate impact of authorization for youth who had already initiated cannabis use because they increased their use after authorization. This was true even in communities that prohibited recreational cannabis sales, specifying that community sales policies may not effectively reduce the frequency of use by teenagers.

Investigation that follows up teenage cannabis use post-legalization for a longer period of time and in different locations could further contribute to inform cannabis policy. Prevention campaigns that educate youth of the risks of using cannabis while their brains are still developing, and constructing capacity and resources for parents to discuss cannabis with their adolescent children, may provide guidance as communities and states navigate the new landscape of legal recreational cannabis.