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Regulation & Public Health

Doctors for Drug Policy Reform

Cannabis Regulation Is Beneficial To Public Health

It is more difficult for adolescents to access cannabis in a regulated environment

The ability to carefully monitor who enters and purchases cannabis in a dispensary allows the state to ensure that adolescents have difficulty accessing it.

Although many of those supporting the continued criminalization of cannabis had assumed that adolescent use would increase with legalization, we and other proponents of cannabis regulation predicted that this would not be the case. In a criminalized environment where cannabis is not carefully regulated, cannabis is easily available to all – including adolescents. An individual selling illicit cannabis typically shows little concern for the age of the buyer. In a regulated environment, the opposite is true.

The results of a large sting operation (1) of legal dispensaries in Colorado (n=85 stores) and Washington State (n=90 stores), the first two states to legalize cannabis, are very informative. Half of the dispensaries studied were in the largest cities (Denver, Seattle) and half were in smaller cities, towns, and unincorporated areas. In Colorado, 100% of young-looking buyers without an ID were refused entry or purchase. In Washington, rates of refusal were high (86.6%) but lower than in Colorado. This was primarily due to dispensaries in Washington allowing relatively easy entry access to individuals without an ID. Using different approach, 97.7% young buyers in Colorado using an ID identifying them as 18-20 years old were unable to buy cannabis in a legal dispensary (1). Interestingly, Washington refused to allow the investigators to explore how dispensaries would respond to this latter scenario. This study documented that the regulated system was working as anticipated, particularly when dispensaries followed the mandated regulations.


1. Buller DB, Woodall WG, Saltz R, Buller MK. Compliance With Personal ID Regulations by Recreational Marijuana Stores in Two U.S. States. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 2019; 80 (6), 679-686.


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