Currently, with the legalization of cannabis and the opening of recreational dispensaries in states across the country, the question of whether or not proximity to recreational cannabis dispensaries affects high school students in terms of their cannabis use, their perceptions of the accessibility of cannabis and their perceptions on the harmfulness and wrongfulness of using cannabis is particularly relevant and timely. In 2014 in Colorado, Amendment 64 went into effect and communities were allowed to legally permit recreational cannabis dispensaries; some communities agreed to permit the opening of recreational dispensaries while other communities did not. Using data from the cross-sectional Healthy Kids Colorado Survey collected from students in randomly selected high schools in both 2013 and 2015, data on student use and perceptions towards cannabis use was analyzed comparing communities that permitted recreational cannabis dispensaries and communities that did not.
The random cross-sectional design used a 2X2 factorial ANOVA for each of the dependent factors: use, access, wrongfulness, and harm. There were a total of three communities that permitted recreational dispensaries, and within those three communities, data was collected from seven high schools. There were four communities that did permit recreational dispensaries, and within those four communities, data was collected from five high schools. The data were aggregated into two groups: ‘yes’ allows dispensaries, and ‘no’ does not allow dispensaries. These two groups were used as comparisons in the factorial ANOVA along with the two collection event years of 2013 and 2015.
The analysis indicates differences between students in communities that have never permitted recreational cannabis dispensaries and students in communities that opened recreational dispensaries in 2014. Students in communities that permitted recreational dispensaries used more cannabis, thought cannabis was less harmful, less wrong, and was more difficult to access than high school students in communities that did not permit recreational cannabis dispensaries, however these differences existed before and after recreational dispensaries were introduced in 2014.
Looking at each type of community to see if there was a change between 2013 and 2015, there were no statistically significant differences between students in 2013 and 2015 in each type of community with one exception; students in communities that did not permit recreational cannabis dispensaries felt even more strongly in 2015 that cannabis use is wrong compared to 2013. Based on the 2013 and 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data, permitting or not permitting recreational cannabis dispensaries in a community does not appear to change student cannabis use or perceptions towards cannabis.