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New Study Says Legalizations Don’t Increase Cannabis Use

legalizations increase use
Written by Sarah Friedman

One of the big topics brought up by opponents of cannabis legalization, is the idea that such legalizations will increase the number of new entrants to cannabis use, who might not have otherwise started. Now, a new study suggests this isn’t the case, and that legalizations do not increase use.

A new Uruguayan study confirms (again) that cannabis legalizations don’t increase use of the drug. This wholly independent platform covers the most important stories in the cannabis and psychedelic fields of today. Make sure not to miss anything by subscribing to the THC Weekly Newsletter, which is also chock full of deals on cool products including cannabinoid compounds like: HHC-O, Delta-8, Delta-9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP, and HHC. Please pick your products carefully and only purchase what you are comfortable using.

How did this start?

The first country to set off the spur of recreational cannabis legalizations, was the South American country of Uruguay. Back in 2013, Uruguay went against the rest of the world, and UN policy, by declaring cannabis legal for recreational use. No other country did the same until 2018, when Canada, Georgia, and Mexico all legalized as well, the latter two through supreme court rulings. Even Europe is opening now, with Malta passing legislation, Switzerland voting to legalize, and Germany promising it as well.

During that time, several US states also legalized recreational use, but no change was made to federal mandate, which still holds cannabis illegal on all fronts. Even with this as the case, the US government did see fit to legalize a few different pharmaceutical-produced cannabis medications like epidiolex and Marinol, but as of yet has not seen fit to pass a comprehensive medical bill for the country.

Many other countries have passed medical legalizations since that time, or country-wide decriminalization policies (that often border on legalizations, a la South Africa and Thailand). And many more countries, (as well as US states), are contemplating their own recreational measures. So, a lot has happened since Uruguay’s 2013 decision to end prohibition, and the country certainly started (or energized) a maelstrom of legal changes on the cannabis front.

Uruguay cannabis use

2013 is almost 10 years ago, and now data has been collected on how the industry effects life, and how it may – or may not – have changed cannabis use behaviors. With recreational policies being pushed in several places, this data is becoming more and more relevant to policymakers, and now, a recent study out of Uruguay, shows how legalizations really don’t increase cannabis use.

The study

In May 2022, this study was released: Does recreational cannabis legalization change cannabis use patterns? Evidence from secondary school students in Uruguay. As Uruguay is the location with the longest running recreational legalization, it made for the perfect location to conduct this investigation, which “measured whether Uruguay’s non-commercial model of recreational cannabis legalization was associated with changes in the prevalence of risky and frequent cannabis use among secondary school students.”

In order to do this, researchers collected data from several cross-sectional surveys given to Uruguayan and Chilean secondary school students between the years of 2007-2018. Students in the study were from 8th, 10th and 12th grade, with a total of 204,730 participants. Researchers evaluated any changes in risky and frequent cannabis use in both a past-month, and past-year model, specifically looking at what happened following the legal change in 2014, and the implementation of the industry in 2016. They looked at a full sample of secondary students, as well as other students 12-17 who claimed past-month or past-year usage. The group 12-17 years of age was looked at separately, as was another age group of 18-21.

In terms of how this was done, investigators looked at past-month and past-year use, and used the Cannabis Abuse Screening Test to identify risky cannabis behaviors. Frequent cannabis use was established as 10+ days in the past month.

What the study found

The study results showed a complete 180º from the oft-mentioned idea that a legalization will lead to more use. In fact, the study results indicate that legalizations do not cause an increase in use, and actually decreased it. This was seen in both past-month and past-year use following both legal enactment, and implementation of the market. It was nearly completely consistent, and went something like this:

There was a decrease in past-year and past-month use following enactment or implementation. Immediately post legal enactment, there was a temporary increase in use for students aged 18-21 in 2014. This quickly decreased soon after in terms of any risky cannabis use; and this went for participants who claimed use in the past month, for those who claimed frequent use from the entire sample, and for those who claimed frequent use in the past year.

no cannabis increase in use

These findings indicate that recreational legalizations are not associated with an increase in cannabis use, and certainly not to risky behavior concerning cannabis. As the study looked at recent use, as well as longer term use, the lack of a rise in risky or frequent usage, says a lot for the continually stated misconception that allowing cannabis legally will lead to a world of potheads. This is also the second time Uruguay has put out a study confirming this is not an issue.

How widespread is the idea that legalizations spur use?

Why do we constantly hear the threat of a cannabis legalization creating a society of weed junkies? Where does this information come from? I’ve seen the line tons of times, yet not once have I seen anything to back it up. In fact, this study serves as one of a handful to investigate the topic, and turned up absolutely nothing to worry about. Especially as it focused on kids, the group governments like to point to most when talking about legalization concerns.

There’s also the logic point that legal or not, cannabis is by far and away the most popular drug in the world, and has been the main drug in the US since the 60’s and 70’s. Yup, it’s held that title for a long time, making the line that legalizing will lead to more use, a little odd, since clearly, it’s already widely used.

As a second logic point, if it’s the most popular, and not a drug that causes societal issues in the first place (like the deaths caused by opioids), why would it matter? Why would the increased use of a drug not causing issues…matter? It matters when opioid use goes up, because accompanying overdose rates go up too, along with the total monetary cost to society through healthcare, lost productivity, and the legal system. But cannabis, with its no death toll, and no real financial toll on society (aside from the baseless arrests that shouldn’t be made in the first place)? Why is an increase in use seen as destructive?

However, logic aside, these lines are so frequently used, it’s scary. Because the lines generally come from government bodies, and this means – logically, these government bodies are making the statements with absolutely no evidence to back them up, and in light of all info pointing to the general safety of the plant. For example, while Costa Rica recently passed a medical bill, this came after many vetoes from President Alvarado who maintains a legal industry will lead to widespread abuse.

In North Carolina, a medical bill making its way through congress, has been met with opposition from republicans who are afraid that a medical legalization will lead to a recreational one. As in, they’re afraid that helping sick people might mean other people – who are already using weed anyway (let’s face it), will have quicker access.

legalizations and use

This was also seen in New Zealand, where opposition to a voter referendum centered on the idea that normalization might encourage more young people to use it. This is odd since previous polling numbers showed as high as 70% in favor. It suffices to say there were some interesting campaigns about the dangers of legalization, if by election time, the positive vote was under 50%.

It’s even seen with the inclusion of safe use sites, meant to allow drug users a safe way to do what they need to, especially concerning the increasing use of fentanyl in opioids, which has spiked death tolls. Rhode Island is the first state to pass legislation to open them, with opponents concerned about increased drug use, and increased crime. A similar initiative was earlier closed by the courts in Philadelphia, with the organization behind it claiming it would relaunch the campaign.


Negative propaganda is everywhere, but its not often backed up in real life, or research. Though smear campaigns still scare people about imaginary detriments of a legal weed industry, the reality is that, as of yet, everything indicates that legalizations don’t lead to an increase in cannabis use.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.