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Marijuana Dispensaries and Adolescents' Use of Marijuana and Tobacco

Institution: University of California, San Diego
Investigator(s): Yuyan Shi, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2018 (Cycle 27) Grant #: 27IR-0014S Award: $895,649
Subject Area: Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation
Award Type: High Impact Research Project Award

Initial Award Abstract

Marijuana use in adolescents is common. In recent years, the proportion of adolescents who use marijuana is even higher than the proportion that smoke cigarettes. Using marijuana early and regularly in adolescence may cause a wide range of negative physical and mental health consequences, such as substance use disorder, paranoia and psychosis, impaired brain development, and motor vehicle accidents. It is also linked to lower school performance, school dropout, and lower earnings in the future. Preventing experimentation of marijuana and regular use of marijuana among adolescents has become a public health priority.

California has the longest history of medical marijuana legalization and the largest number of registered patients in the U.S. On November 8, 2016, California voters further passed Proposition 64 to join the other 8 jurisdictions that legalize marijuana for recreational use purposes. Although both medical and recreational marijuana laws have age limits to prohibit minors’ purchase, there are concerns that adolescents may be influenced by the presence of marijuana dispensaries in neighborhoods. Marijuana dispensaries may increase adolescents’ access to marijuana, reduce harm perceptions, make marijuana use more acceptable, and expose adolescents to novel products and marketing tactics. Because many adolescents use both marijuana and tobacco, marijuana dispensaries may also influence adolescents’ tobacco use behaviors and concurrent use of both marijuana and tobacco.

Despite the rapid change in the policy landscape, there is limited evidence about the relationships between marijuana dispensaries in neighborhood and adolescents’ behaviors and health. The lack of evidence hindered evidence-based policymaking. This proposed research therefore aims to use and collect California-specific data to understand whether and how marijuana dispensaries in school neighborhoods are correlated with adolescents’ marijuana and tobacco use behaviors and perceptions. Specifically, we propose to construct a comprehensive database on marijuana dispensaries using innovative methods, providing information on their compliance with law, location and density, price of marijuana products, variety of marijuana products, and advertising and promotions. Merging this database with the large ongoing California school surveys, we will examine whether adolescents’ marijuana and tobacco use is associated with the proximity, density of marijuana dispensaries, price and product varieties of marijuana products, and exposure to marijuana-related advertising and promotions.

We expect the findings of this research provide evidence-based guidance regarding marijuana regulations strategies, including licensing, zoning ordinances, taxation, and policies to limit product type and marketing.