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Proximity to cannabis retailers & adolescent use

Institution: University of Southern California
Investigator(s): Jennifer Unger, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 28) Grant #: 28IR-0042 Award: $1,237,497
Subject Area: Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation
Award Type: High Impact Research Project Award

Initial Award Abstract

Retail sales of cannabis began in January 2018 in some California cities. Increased availability of cannabis to adults could lead to increased availability and use among adolescents who otherwise would not have access to cannabis. Conversely, it is possible that cannabis was already readily available to those youth who were interested in using it. To prevent youth from experiencing adverse consequences of cannabis use and inform future policy and enforcement efforts, it is important to understand whether availability of cannabis in retail stores and dispensaries increases cannabis use among underage youth. Studies in other states have been inconclusive, with some states experiencing increases in adolescent cannabis use after legalization and other states not experiencing increases. California provides a unique opportunity to determine whether presence of cannabis retailers and dispensaries is associated with cannabis access and use among adolescents. Although medical and recreational cannabis is legal throughout California, cities and counties can ban or limit the number of retailers and dispensaries. Therefore, some California adolescents now live within close proximity of a cannabis retailer or dispensary, whereas others live over an hour’s drive from one. We hypothesize that adolescents who live near cannabis retailers and/or dispensaries will perceive easier access to cannabis, compared with adolescents in cities where retail sales and/or dispensaries are prohibited. We also propose that proximity to cannabis retailers and dispensaries will influence cannabis use differently according to adolescents’ level of cognitive susceptibility to cannabis use. This study will conduct a 2-year longitudinal survey of 2000 California adolescents. We will determine whether proximity to recreational cannabis retailers and/or medical cannabis dispensaries is associated with higher perceived access to cannabis and whether this perceived access increases cannabis use. We will identify resilience factors and subgroups of adolescents (e.g., susceptible adolescents, specific racial/ethnic groups) who are disproportionately affected by proximity to cannabis retailers/dispensaries. Results will inform policymakers about how to prevent youth access to cannabis.