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Most High School Seniors Support More Liberal Marijuana Laws

Update Date: Oct 31, 2014 09:35 AM EDT

Over the past few years, several states across America have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Two states have even legalized recreational marijuana. With all of these policy changes, a new study set out to examine the public opinion of adolescents and found that the majority of high school seniors support more liberal marijuana laws.

Researcher Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), examined data taken from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, which tracks students' behaviors, attitudes and values. The students' gender, race, political affiliation and religion were collected. For his study, Dr. Palamar focused on 11,594 students who answered questions about marijuana use and policy between 2007 and 2011.

Overall, the majority of high school seniors favored more liberal marijuana policies. 33 percent of them felt that marijuana should be legal and 28.5 percent believed that marijuana use should be treated as a minor violation. 25.6 percent of people opposed the drug and believed that using it should be a crime. 12.9 percent of the students were unsure. In terms of race, black and Hispanic students were more likely than white student to support more liberal policies.

"Studies suggest that blacks and Hispanics are less likely to use illicit drugs such as marijuana, yet arrest and incarceration rates for drug possession tend to be higher for these subgroups," said Dr. Palamar according to the press release. "Higher arrest rates may be due to the fact that minorities are more likely to engage in riskier practices such as using or purchasing on the street. These results are important as they show that even though blacks and Hispanics tend to use marijuana and other illicit drugs at lower rates than whites, they are more likely to support legalization."

When asked who should be allowed to buy marijuana, 48 percent of the students stated only adults. 29.9 percent said no one, 10.4 percent said anyone and 12.4 percent were unsure.

"This may be because marijuana use is becoming seen as less of a moral issue...because findings from a recent Pew national survey showed that in 2013, only 32% of adults in the US felt use was morally 'wrong,' compared to 50% in 2006," noted Palamar.

The study, "An Examination of Opinions toward Marijuana Policies among High School Seniors in the United States," was published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

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