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Study: Marijuana Use Trends In The United States

Study: Marijuana Use Trends In The United States

Marijuana use in the States has been steadily on the rise for over a decade. With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving large swaths of Americans anxiety-ridden and homebound, many dispensaries have seen massive upticks in sales. It makes sense that people are turning to cannabis to help cope with these difficult times, but according to a new study, this is hardly a novel phenomenon. 

The Study

To help policymakers be more informed, a recent study out of Harvard set out to analyze the changes in cannabis use nationwide. Researchers examined data from before and after the majority of states adopted legislation legalizing at least some form of cannabis.

The study, authored by William Mitchell, Roma Bhatia, and Nazlee Zebardast, used data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005 to 2018. 

The survey measured three subcategories of marijuana use: 

  • Lifetime use 
  • First-time use before the age of eighteen
  • Use in the last year 

The NHANES is a biennial survey that is weighted to represent the entire US population. Participants range in age from 18 to 69. A total of 3,512 adults were surveyed in the seven cycles examined in this study. Those who partake in the survey are given a physical examination as well as an interview that includes a drug-use questionnaire. 

The Results

Researchers discovered some interesting things about America’s marijuana habits.

First of all, the data showed that the amount of people who have used cannabis sometime in their life has hardly changed in the last 14 years. In 2005, 61.5 percent of participants reported having at least one marijuana experience in their lifetime. In 2018, that figure was 60.9 percent. In the five cycles in between, the data never varied more than four percentage points.

Similarly, the seven cycles showed very little difference in the prevalence of cannabis use before the age of eighteen. The lowest figure reported was 59.6 percent in 2005, and the highest was 62.7 percent in 2009, making for a range of only 3.1 percent. 

The big variance that the study found was in the prevalence of people who reported using marijuana in the last year. Of Americans surveyed by the NHANES, 19.1 percent described having used cannabis in the last year in 2005. Compare that number to 2018, where 29.1 percent of those surveyed reported consuming marijuana in the last year. The 10 percent range is by far the largest in the study, and the prevalence steadily increases throughout every iteration of the survey, unlike the other two measured two outcomes.

What Does it Mean?  

Since state-level legislation to end marijuana prohibition has become more common, so has marijuana use. The findings are not exceptionally surprising—legalization makes cannabis more accessible through legal dispensaries and removes the barrier of potential criminal repercussions that may have otherwise dissuaded potential users. With more people consuming marijuana, there has never been a better time to invest in the cannabis industry. 

Even though more people are accessing cannabis in legal markets, the use among minors has not increased the way proponents of prohibition argued it would.

Legalization Is Not Encouraging Marijuana Use Per Harvard Study

Legalization Is Not Encouraging Marijuana Use Per Harvard Study

Cannabis policy reform seems to be sweeping across the United States, as Alaska and Oregon have recently joined Colorado and Washington as states in which voters approved measures to legalize the recreational use and retail sale of marijuana. There are also efforts mobilizing in many other states to place legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot. While all of this is happening, many people have been left questioning whether legalization will encourage marijuana use, especially in young Americans.

According to the 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project, legalization does not encourage marijuana use. Nearly nine out of ten participants (88%) who have not used marijuana recently responded that they are not likely to change behavior if it is legalized. This means that legalization is not a driving factor in a young American’s decision to use marijuana.

The Harvard Public Opinion Project has been collecting information and tracking participants’ views toward politics and public service since the year 2000. All participants are between the ages of 18 and 29. Inspired by the recent politics, the project’s 14th year contained more questions about marijuana than ever before.

Only 10 percent of the survey participants reported having used cannabis recently. The wording categorized recently as “within the last few months.” Of those respondents, 88 percent support legalizing marijuana on a federal level. Even 37 percent of participants who have not used cannabis recently still support legalization. A sizable amount of respondents who have not used marijuana recently, 23 percent, were still on the fence or unsure about legalization.

Outside of this Harvard study, Gallup has acquired similar information about marijuana legalization support from voters of all ages. The graph below shows the evolution of marijuana legalization support from 1969, when support was only at about 12% through 2013, where support is up to 58%.

american support for legalizing marijuana

According to the Harvard study, the percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who support legalizing marijuana is lower than the national average. When each participant of the 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project was asked whether “they support, oppose or are unsure about legalizing marijuana,” regardless of preference to use, 44 percent responded in support, which is 14 percent less than the national average according to the Gallup poll. Of that, 23 percent reported strongly supporting legalization. The percent of participants on the fence about marijuana legalization, regardless of preference to use, 22 percent reported being unsure or on the fence.

Although some of America’s youth may not yet have formed an opinion about legalization, one thing they are sure about is that whether or not the plant is legalized will not make a difference in the choice to use it.

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