Marijuana should be legal, but there are still good reasons to curtail pot advertising
California’s legal marijuana market is slowly growing, with more and more pot shops opening across the state to provide regulated and taxed cannabis to adult customers. But a new study raises questions about how many legal pot shops should be clustered in a community — and whether there should be more restrictions on marijuana advertising.
The study from the nonprofit Rand Corp. found that young adults aged 18 to 22 who live in Los Angeles County neighborhoods where there are more pot shops use marijuana more frequently than their peers in other L.A. neighborhoods. They also have more positive opinions on marijuana.
Furthermore, young people who lived near marijuana dispensaries that had storefront signs were still more likely to use marijuana and have good opinions of the drug, the study found. That was true even if the sign merely said “marijuana” or “pot” or had the symbol of a marijuana leaf or green cross.
The study suggests that both the prevalence and visibility of pot shops may influence the way young people perceive and use marijuana. It builds on earlier research from Rand that found that teenagers in Southern California were increasingly bombarded by pot ads. In 2010, 25% of teens said they had seen at least one medical marijuana advertisement during the previous three months; by 2017, 70% of teens had seen an ad. The teens who had seen the most ads were more likely to have used marijuana in the previous month and more likely to expect to use it again.
None of this should be terribly surprising. Common sense alone tells you that ubiquitous advertising for marijuana — and reasonably easy access — will make it seem more normal and less risky, and could make people more inclined to use it.
That’s of particular concern because young brains are still developing until around age 25. Numerous studies have shown that when young people use marijuana — particularly if the use is frequent and the dose is potent — they can hurt their ability to think, learn and remember, and it puts them at greater risk of mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia.
It’s much better to delay marijuana use until well into adulthood. And it’s a problem if the proliferation of highly visible retail cannabis shops in a community undermines that goal.
What’s the right response?