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    Youth Protection Provisions Within Marijuana Liberalization Laws

    Published: September 2023

    Children, adolescents, and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the developmental, cognitive, emotional, and physical effects of marijuana. Efforts to make certain drugs more available and accessible to the adult public must not compromise the health and wellbeing of young people who are already struggling with unprecedented mental health and substance-related challenges.

    As the nation moves toward widescale legalization of marijuana, and possibly other psychoactive and potentially addictive substances, it is important to ensure that the regulatory environment around such legalization makes protecting young people a priority.

    State governments that have made or are considering making changes to their marijuana or other drug use laws should:

    • base their policies on science, not public pressure or financial interests;
    • carefully consider how regulations have historically succeeded or failed to protect youth from alcohol and nicotine, as well as recent experiences of other states that have implemented marijuana reform;
    • and prioritize the protection of children, adolescents, and young adults in their drug laws.

    This report is designed to help inform policymakers – and the public – about the most effective ways to protect young people in the context of state (and potentially federal) marijuana drug law reforms.

    The recommendations cover the key areas of regulatory oversight, including:

    • Product composition
    • Packaging and labeling
    • Advertising and marketing
    • Manufacture and sale
    • Locations of marijuana use, and
    • Sale and distribution to youth.

    The evidence-based legal and regulatory provision recommendations presented are derived from:

    • an extensive review of the marijuana, tobacco/nicotine, and alcohol research literatures to determine which provisions would be most effective for protecting minors in the context of liberalized marijuana laws;
    • and a landscape review of relevant provisions in states that have laws permitting the sale of marijuana for adult nonmedical use.

    The report also includes topline findings from a nationally representative survey of 1,502 registered voters in the United States that explores adults’ attitudes and perceptions regarding marijuana legalization and commercialization, especially in relation to their effects on youth, and their degree of support for the specific policy recommendations presented in this report.

    Working together, researchers, policy professionals, communities, families, health care providers, educators, youth, and lawmakers can help ensure that efforts to reform historically punitive drug laws accomplish the goal of ending the “War on Drugs” without exacerbating the risk to young people of marijuana exposure, access, normalization, and use.