An examination of the legal marijuana use age and its enforcement in California, a state where recreational marijuana is legal

Fell, James C. / Toomey, Traci / Eichelberger, Angela H. / Kubelka, Julie / Schriemer, Daniel / Erickson, Darin
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
March 2021

Objective: Since 2012, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. 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.
Method: A survey was administered to a random sample of 25 law enforcement agency representatives from across California to better understand enforcement strategies concerning recreational marijuana, and 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 with their age.
Results: Most of the surveyed law enforcement agencies in California do not consider enforcement of the recreational marijuana market a priority and depend mainly on the retail store security to enforce the marijuana use age of 21. At 100% of the recreational marijuana outlets visited, the pseudo-
Underage patrons were required to show age identification to enter conclusions: It appears that California recreational marijuana outlets avoid selling marijuana to underage customers. However, according to a recently published study and an investigative report, there are hundreds of illicit marijuana dispensaries in California. Future studies could investigate whether underage patrons attempt to use fake IDs at licensed dispensaries and whether youth are obtaining marijuana from illicit dispensaries or social sources.