After marijuana is legalized for adults, what happens when minors are caught with it? Do their arrest rates go down? What about if marijuana possession is simply decriminalized? 

Andrew Plunk, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at EVMS, and three colleagues went looking for answers. Their findings were published June 17 in JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, in the study, “Youth and Adult Arrests for Cannabis Possession After Decriminalization and Legalization of Cannabis.”
The study was co-authored by Stephanie Peglow, DO, MPH, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Paul Harrell, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, both of EVMS; and Richard Grucza, PhD, MPE, Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. It’s the first time the EVMS researchers have had a study published in the prestigious pediatrics journal.
What they found is that while adult arrests decreased in states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use by adults, youth arrests were not reduced. But in states where marijuana possession has been decriminalized — meaning penalties might be the same as for a traffic violation — arrests for both adults and youths dropped.
“It’s not surprising,” Dr. Plunk says, “but it’s important to recognize that if decreasing a person’s interaction with the criminal justice system is one of the goals of legalizing marijuana, then we have to think about that as it relates to minors. Getting arrested as a young person can have lifelong consequences. For example, arrests and drug convictions affect college admission opportunities and can prevent youths from getting student loans.”
Dr. Plunk hopes the new study will have an impact on future drug policies.

“I think we should explicitly state how we want these policies to affect the nation’s youth,” he says. “If we’re going to promote these new policies, we need to think about all of their consequences. Are we taking a harm reduction approach for adults? If so, it’s important to ask why we’re taking a more punitive approach with youth.”