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Did Cannabis Reform In Europe Increase Use Among Young People?

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One of the most popular talking points for cannabis prohibitionists is the ‘what about the children?’ talking point. Cannabis opponents go to that talking point early and often whenever cannabis reform is being proposed in any jurisdiction, including in Europe.

In recent years medical cannabis reform has spread across the European continent, with countless patients now being able to safely access medical cannabis products where they live. Not all countries’ medical cannabis programs are created equal, as proven by a comparison between the United Kingdom and Germany.

Germany is home to the most well-established medical cannabis program in Europe and the largest medical cannabis industry on the continent. Patients can easily acquire medical cannabis products from licensed pharmacies. Compare that to the United Kingdom where only three patients had received any medical cannabis products as of last summer.

With so much medical cannabis reform sweeping the European continent, many are wondering if it had any impact on youth consumption rates on the continent? After all, cannabis opponents tried so hard to convince people that reforming cannabis laws would lead to a doomsday scenario in Europe. A study was recently conducted that sought to answer that question, and spoiler alert – it was not favorable to the claims of cannabis opponents.

Youth Consumption Rates Spanning 20+ Years

A team of researchers in Sweden recently examined data of self-reported cannabis use spanning a period from 1994 to 2017. During that span of time many countries in Europe reformed their cannabis laws in one way or another, including the countries where data was sourced from (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom).

“Cannabis policy varies greatly across European countries, but evidence of how such policy impacts on 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’s authors stated.

“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 researchers stated regarding their methodology.

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

The Same Will Likely Prove True For Adult-Use Legalization

Europe’s cannabis community experienced a major milestone at the end of last year when Malta became the first country on the continent to legalize cannabis for adult use. The new law makes it legal for adults to cultivate, possess, and consume cannabis. The measure will also legalize cannabis clubs, although it will not legalize adult-use sales.

Legalization efforts are well underway in other European countries as well, with Luxembourg, Germany, and possibly Italy legalizing cannabis for adult use in the near future. That will increase pressure on other countries, including Spain where our next event will be held in March, to ramp up adult-use legalization efforts as well.

Unfortuantely, that ramping up of legalization efforts across the continent will likely be paralleled by claims from cannabis opponents that cannabis legalization will result in a stoned youth epidemic. Feel free to point to the results of the study contained in this article to debunk their claims. Just as those claims proved to be unfounded when it came to medical cannabis reform, the same will likely be true for adult-use reform.