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Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization on College Students: A Longitudinal Study of Attitudes, Intentions, and Use Behaviors

Marijuana use is common among young adults, specifically college students. As of 2019, recreational use of marijuana is legal for adults after 21 years in 10 states and medial use is legal in 23. The current study looks at college student’s attitudes and behaviors towards recreational marijuana use in Washington (recreational use is legal) and Wisconsin (recreational use is illegal).

Data for this study was gathered from May 2011 to September 2016 and included 338 college students from both states. Washington passed a law in 2012 making marijuana legal for adults aged 21 years and older. Students for this study were recruited the summer before they were set to arrive at college. Measures included demographics and marijuana related attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. The data was collected over six interviews, all with self-reported answers. Some of the questions asked included things like “what percentage of your friends use marijuana?” “On a scale of 0-6, what would you say your own attitude toward marijuana use?” and “Have you used any marijuana products in the last 28 days?”

Marijuana use increased over the study period from 43% and 33% (Washington and Wisconsin, respectively) to 65% and 72%. Attitude towards use was higher after legalization and intention to use marijuana in the next 6 months was significantly higher in Wisconsin than Washington when data was collected during the first summer. The intention to use increased over the years through to there being no difference in the two scores. Researchers also found that among prior users, the proportion of students using marijuana in the previous month rose significantly faster in Washington, were recreational use is legal, than in Wisconsin. This finding may point to the fact that prior users will continue using as the climate around them is increasingly supportive of recreational marijuana use.

Take Away: The current study looks at college student’s attitudes and behaviors towards recreational marijuana use in Washington (recreational use is legal) and Wisconsin (recreational use is illegal). 338 college students from both states participated in this study and they were recruited the summer before they were set to arrive at college. Measures included demographics and marijuana related attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. The data was collected over six interviews, all with self-reported answers. Researchers found among prior users, the proportion of students using marijuana in the previous month rose faster in Washington than in Wisconsin. This finding may point to prior users continuing tp use as the climate around them is increasingly supportive of recreational marijuana use.

Barker, A. K., & Moreno, M. A. (2020). Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization on College Students: A Longitudinal Study of Attitudes, Intentions, and Use Behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.03.039

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