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The majority of high school seniors favor more liberal marijuana policies

The United States is undergoing a drastic change in policy. Two states legalized recreational use for adults in 2012, and next week, citizens of Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia will vote for or against legalization in their area. The majority of the public now favor legalizing or decriminalizing use, but there is a lack of research examining how use and demographic characteristics relate to positions toward specific policies. For example, is it primarily users who support legalization?

There is a need to examine positions toward legalization, particularly among those who are at the highest risk for initiation – adolescents approaching adulthood. With public opinion tending to drive policy in the US, an analysis of such positions is important as these adolescents are (or soon will be) of age to vote and perhaps influence .

Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a researcher affiliated with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), conducted a study analyzing adolescents’ positions toward marijuana decriminalization and legalization. In his analysis, now in the on-line edition of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Palamar identifies how positions toward various marijuana policies differ by gender, race, political affiliation and religion. He also examined how lifetime and recent marijuana use relate to such positions.

The study, “An Examination of Opinions toward Marijuana Policies among in the United States,” used data from Monitoring the Future (MTF), a nation-wide ongoing annual study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students. The MTF survey is administered in approximately 130 public and private schools throughout 48 states in the US. Roughly 15,000 are assessed annually.

Dr. Palamar’s study examined data from 11,594 students who were asked a variety of questions to gauge their attitudes towards marijuana use and policy from 2007-2011. Newer (2012) data were not analyzed because two states legalized recreational use after 2011. Dr. Palamar is also an assistant professor of population health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.

The survey found that the majority of high school seniors were in favor of more liberal marijuana policies, with 33% responding that marijuana should be entirely legal, and 28.5% answering it should be treated as a minor violation. Of those remaining, 25.6% felt that it should be a crime and 12.9% were unsure. With regard to who should be able to purchase marijuana (if legal), 29.2% said no one, 48.0% felt only adults should be able to purchase; 10.4% felt anyone should be able to purchase and 12.4% were unsure.

Upon analyzing the responses, Dr. Palamar found that females were significantly less likely to respond that marijuana should be legal, with only 26.7% of females surveyed in favor of legalization, compared to 39.2% of males. Furthermore, females were less likely to respond that marijuana, if legal, should only be sold to adults.