What Impact Does Reform in Europe Have on Youth Consumption Rates?

When it comes to cannabis and youth consumption, it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously. No responsible cannabis consumer is pro-youth use except in doctor-approved medical situations.

With that being said, when cannabis prohibitionists make alarming predictions regarding a spike in youth cannabis consumption rates due to looming cannabis reform, it needs to be called out.

The fact of the matter is that a regulated industry is better than an unregulated industry from the standpoint of youth consumption rates. After all, no one checks ID in an unregulated system.

Cannabis reform, particularly medical cannabis reform, has swept the European continent in recent decades. What did that do to youth consumption rates in Europe?

Comprehensive Study

A team of researchers in Sweden recently analyzed data of self-reported cannabis use from Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The data spanned a period from 1994 to 2017, with researchers specifically focusing on the data involving younger consumers.

“Cannabis policy varies greatly across European countries, but evidence of how such policy impacts recreational cannabis use among young people is conflicting. This study aimed to clarify this association by investigating how changes in cannabis legislation influenced cannabis use,” the study stated.

The methodology used was rigorous, as detailed by the researchers: “Available data on self-reports of recreational cannabis use among individuals aged 15-34 years was retrieved from EMCDDA. Information on cannabis policy changes was categorized as more lenient (decriminalisation or depenalisation) or stricter (criminalisation, penalisation). 

“Countries that had implemented changes in cannabis legislation or had information on prevalence of use for at least eight calendar years were eligible for inclusion. We used interrupted time-series linear models to investigate changes in country-specific trajectories of prevalence over calendar time and in relation to policy changes,” the study said.

The researchers concluded that “findings do not support any considerable impact of cannabis legislation on the prevalence of recreational cannabis use among youth and young adults in Europe.”

Likely True in Other Regions

A study of this scope and size has not been conducted on other continents. However, it’s likely a safe bet that if/when similar studies are conducted on other continents that it will yield similar results.

Medical cannabis is popular all across the globe, and thankfully, more and more lawmakers are getting on the right side of history and creating safe access in their jurisdictions.

As previously mentioned, a regulated system is better at keeping cannabis out of the hands of people that are not of legal age compared to an unregulated system.

This is not to say that no cannabis will ever escape the regulated system. Just as alcohol and tobacco are purchased and/or provided to youth illegally, the same will be true of cannabis and any other regulated substance.


  • Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has blogged about cannabis since January 2010.

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