Young adults who live in neighborhoods with a higher number of medical marijuana dispensaries use pot more frequently than their peers and have more positive views about the drug, according to a study released Monday by the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp.
The results were strongest among young adults who lived near dispensaries that had storefront signs, suggesting that regulating such advertising could be one strategy if policymakers are concerned about curbing use of marijuana, according to RAND.
The study is the first to show that storefront marijuana signage is extremely influential and substantially magnifies the associations between higher density of medical marijuana dispensaries with greater use of marijuana and positive views about the drug, according to the think tank. Based on research from the same project, the city of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance in 2018 to restrict some storefront and billboard advertising.
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"Our findings suggest that as the marijuana retail outlets become more visible and more numerous, they may influence the way that young adults perceive and use marijuana," said Regina Shih, the study's lead author and a senior behavioral scientist at the nonprofit research organization.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, with 33 states now having some type of medical marijuana law. In addition, California and nine other states allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use.
Although research supports some medicinal benefits of marijuana, youth who frequently use cannabis are more likely to experience negative consequences such as increased risk of mental and physical health problems, school drop-out, relationship problems and motor vehicle accidents, according to the RAND researchers.
They analyzed survey results from 1,887 people aged 18 to 22 who live in Los Angeles County and have been long-term participants in an ongoing RAND project examining multiple factors about the use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Most of those in the study were in college or trade school at the time of the survey.
The study is published online by the journal Addiction.