Is Marijuana Legalization Leading to More Abuse?


Today, recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and medical marijuana is legal in 29 states.1,2,3 Last year, legal marijuana sales were expected to reach $9.7 billion, which is a 33% increase above 2016. Analysts don’t expect the growth to stop either. They predict that the market will hit $24.5 billion in sales by 2021.4

Despite the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and the DEA classifies it as a schedule 1 drug, American attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use have changed drastically over the last two decades.5 For example, in 1969, Gallup first asked Americans about marijuana legalization and only 12% said they thought it should be legal. Fast forward to 2017, and 64% of people favor legalizing marijuana. Overall support is the highest it’s been in the last five decades.6,7

All of this begs the question: is marijuana legalization leading to more abuse? First, let’s look at current marijuana abuse trends in the U.S.

Marijuana Abuse in America

In 2007, 14.5 million people were current users of marijuana.8 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States today, with 22.2 million current users.9

Here are some additional facts about marijuana abuse in the U.S. based on the most recent data:

  • In 2016, 6.5% of teens (or 1.6 million) ages 12 to 17 used marijuana.10
  • In 2016, 20.8% of people (or 7.2 million) ages 18 to 25 used marijuana.10
  • In 2016, 7.2% of people (or 15.2 million) ages 26 or older used marijuana.10
  • In 2016, most current marijuana users were male (11.3% were male and 6.7% were female).11
  • Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, the prevalence of marijuana use more than doubled.12
  • 3 out of 10 marijuana users developed marijuana use disorder in 2012-2013.12
  • In 2015, about 4 million people met the criteria for marijuana use disorder. 138,000 voluntarily sought treatment for their disorder.13

The Debate on Marijuana Legalization and Its Connection to Marijuana Use

The prevalence of marijuana abuse among a representative sample of all Americans (not just those who used marijuana) was 2.9%. In the previous decade, it was only 1.5%. So more people are using marijuana now than they were a decade ago.14

Whether or not the increase of marijuana abuse in America is a result of legalization and policy is a heavily debated topic. Many experts feel that the increase in marijuana abuse is a result of a changing culture and beliefs about the drug. Fewer people oppose the legalization and use of marijuana now than in previous years.6,14

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In addition, a 2017 study in the journal Addiction concluded that “Medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use … Marijuana policy liberalization over the past 20 years has certainly been associated with increased marijuana use; however, policy changes appear to have occurred in response to changing attitudes within states and to have effects on attitudes and behaviors more generally in the U.S.”15,16 Unfortunately, this is just one study and not necessarily a definitive answer.

Marijuana Misuse, Addiction and Treatment

Regardless of whether the legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana is causing more abuse or not, the misuse of marijuana is still happening.

Although some people argue that marijuana is not addictive, the NIDA clearly states that regular marijuana use can lead to marijuana use disorder, which in severe cases, can take the form of addiction.13 Marijuana use disorder is characterized by dependence, which results in a person feeling withdrawal symptoms when they’re not taking the drug. Dependence on any drug can reduce quality of life, put the user and his or her loved ones at risk for physical, mental, and emotional harm, and it frequently leads to full-blown addiction.

A medically-assisted drug detox program is the safest and most comfortable way to quit marijuana for good and begin a lifestyle of recovery and sobriety. Quitting marijuana on your own at home can be difficult because uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and a lack of professional support make it easy to give in and use marijuana before completing detox.

At a medically-assisted detox center like Briarwood, you’ll have a whole team of medical and clinical professionals helping you get sober. Your treatment program will be designed around your specific needs, drug abuse history, and physical health. You’ll also find that it’s much easier to relax and rest in a detox center because nurses will be monitoring your vitals several times a day and administering medication as needed to treat any withdrawal symptoms.

If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana use disorder or addiction, the caring staff at Briarwood Detox Center can help. We have facilities in Houston and Austin that provide safe, supportive, and clean environments in which you can successfully detox from marijuana and begin your life of recovery.

Call or fill out the contact form below to speak to a member of the Briarwood admissions team today.




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