Court-Mandated Marijuana Treatment for Young People Declines Significantly Following Legalization

Philadelphia, PA: Far fewer young people are referred by the criminal courts to attend marijuana-specific treatment programs following the adoption of statewide adult-use legalization laws, according to data published in the journal Addiction Medicine

Researchers with Temple University in Philadelphia analyzed ten years (2008 to 2019) of admissions data from the US government’s Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS). They reported that the total number of marijuana-related drug treatment admissions declined significantly among adolescents (ages 12 to 17) and young adults (ages 18 to 24) during this time period. Much of this decline was the result of fewer court-mandated admissions. 

“Our results indicate that the proportion of referrals to CUD [cannabis use disorder] treatment from the criminal justice system fell following recreational legalization in the United States among young adults, likely due to post-legalization declines in cannabis-related arrests,” the study’s authors concluded. 

In 2010, courts ordered nearly 60,000 teens and another 70,000 young adults to attend marijuana treatment. Those totals fell to fewer than 20,000 adolescents and approximately 30,000 young adults in 2019.

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano commented on the trend, stating: “In addition to ending tens of thousands of needless low-level marijuana arrests, cannabis legalization is also freeing up space in drug treatment centers for those people who truly need it. Most people arrested for violating marijuana possession laws do not require mandatory drug treatment, and historically, these referrals were provided primarily to divert people away from the criminal justice system.”

Numerous state and federal surveys have failed to identify an uptick in adolescents’ use of cannabis following the adoption of state-level legalization policies.

Full text of the study, “Criminal justice referrals to cannabis use disorder treatment among adolescents and young adults following cannabis legalization in the United States,” appears inAddiction Medicine.

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