NEW YORK, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use. Another 15 states have decriminalized the drug. And 19 states allow it for medical purposes.
An increase in readily available and legal pot -- researchers at New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research conclude -- means high schoolers will be more likely to toke up.
Researchers surveyed nearly 10,000 high school seniors on their attitudes toward pot. Ten percent of those who said they'd never before used marijuana claimed they try the drug if it was legal. The study was recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Researchers inferred that if other states follow in the path of Washington and Colorado, pot use among young people would go up, despite the 21-and-up age restriction at licensed shops.
"What I personally find interesting is the reasonably high percentage of students who are very religious, non-cigarette smokers, non-drinkers, and those who have friends who disapprove of marijuana use -- who said they intended to try marijuana if it was legal," explained Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. "This suggests that many people may be solely avoiding use because it is illegal, not because it is "bad" for you, or "wrong" to use."
For these reasons, researchers say the problem of drug abuse should be addressed as more of a public health issue and less as an issue of morality.
Attorney General Eric Holder has previously voiced his opinion that marijuana legalization won't affect the drug's prevalence among minors. “People cannot buy alcohol I guess now until you’re age… age 21, but young people find ways to get alcohol because adults can have access to it,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. “I’m not sure that we will see the same thing here given what we have said with regard to our enforcement priorities.”
[International Journal of Drug Policy] [TIME]