According to a new study conducted by the RAND Corporation, children who are exposed to medical marijuana advertisements are more likely to use marijuana in the future. One common fear among those reluctant to legalize marijuana is the question of what effect it would have on the adolescent population and this study has only stoked the fires of fear.
Published in the online journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the study looked at 8,214 Southern California middle school children in grades six, seven and eight from 2010 to 2011. Researchers asked the children a variety of questions, including questions about how often they had seen medical marijuana advertisements.
They found a significant correlation between children who had been exposed to medical marijuana advertisements and their intentions to use medical marijuana in the future. Researchers also found that between the two years, the number of children exposed to medical marijuana advertisements increased from 22 percent to 30 percent.
Although researchers admit they cannot find a definitive link between medical marijuana advertisements and adolescent use of the substance, lead researcher Elizabeth D’Amico said the results raise some interesting questions.
“As prohibitions on marijuana ease and sales of marijuana become more visible, it’s important to think about how we need to change the way we talk to young people about the risks posed by the drug,” D’Amico said. “The lessons we have learned from alcohol — a substance that is legal, but not necessarily safe — may provide guidance about approaches we need to take toward marijuana.”
While this study does raise interesting questions, it is also important to put these findings in the proper context. Advertising is a fickle art, and studying its effects only shows you a partial picture of what’s going on.
The correlation between medical marijuana interest and ad exposure could simply mean that children interested in medical marijuana are more likely to remember seeing advertisements. People see hundreds of ads every day, but the ones you remember are often the ones that you liked.
Furthermore, studies have shown that states that legalized medical marijuana have not seen an increase in teen drug use. If medical marijuana advertisements are affecting children’s choices, it is doing so in minimal increments.
Nevertheless, as the nation moves toward full legalization, it will be important to become more aware of what the industry is putting out to the public. As the nation matures its perception of marijuana, the industry will have to as well; otherwise, it risks losing the good will that it has built up in the last five years.