Examination of Current Minimum Legal Marijuana Use Age 21 Laws in a State Where Recreational Marijuana is Legal: California

Sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in this study, NORC at the University of Chicago will (1) conduct legal research and document the minimum legal marijuana use age 21 (MLMU-21) laws in California; (2) determine the responsible agencies and the current strategies used in California to enforce the MLMU-21 laws; (3) determine the most current self-reported use of marijuana by youth under age 21 in California from existing surveys and compare those usage rates to other states; (4) conduct pseudo-underage purchase attempts at a probability sample of 50 marijuana retail outlets in California to determine compliance rates; and (5) analyze all the data collected, discuss the results, and make recommendations toward improvement in the prevention of youth under age 21 from purchasing marijuana.

Since 2012, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. Marijuana use at any level impairs driving performance. Prior research on enforcement of the minimum legal marijuana use age of 21 (MLMU-21) laws is limited. The objective of the current study was to assess the ease of access to marijuana by underage patrons at recreational marijuana outlets in California, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2016. Pseudo-underage patrons were sent to 50 randomly selected licensed recreational marijuana outlets in the state to see if they could enter the outlet without showing a valid identification of their age. Pseudo-underage patrons were required to show age identification to enter in 100% of the licensed recreational marijuana outlets visited. It appears that licensed California recreational marijuana outlets avoid selling marijuana to underage customers. One reason could be a strong incentive for recreational marijuana outlet owners and managers to avoid being shut down for an illegal activity. Underage youth are not obtaining marijuana at licensed recreational outlets. Future studies and cannabis enforcement agencies should investigate whether underage patrons attempt to use fake IDs at licensed marijuana dispensaries and whether youth are obtaining marijuana from illicit dispensaries or from social sources.

Using pseudo-underage patrons:
Pseudo-underage patrons were required to show age identification to enter in 100% of the licensed recreational marijuana outlets visited. It appears that licensed California recreational marijuana outlets avoid selling marijuana to underage customers. One reason could be a strong incentive for recreational marijuana outlet owners and managers to avoid being shut down for an illegal activity. Underage youth are not obtaining marijuana at licensed recreational outlets. Future studies and cannabis enforcement agencies should investigate whether underage patrons attempt to use fake IDs at licensed marijuana dispensaries and whether youth are obtaining marijuana from illicit dispensaries or from social sources.

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