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Who Are You? US Government Statistics on Adult Marijuana Users

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator April 10, 2009

    [UPDATE: The portion of my post relating to race and ethnicity data was missing one of the pie charts.  The text has been changed to reflect the correct data from the missing chart.  My apologies for any confusion. -- Russ Belville]

    The US Government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA) is a treasure trove of information from the National Surveys on Drug Use & Health 2001-2007. I’ve always been uncomfortable discussing most marijuana statistics from this and other reports because the data so often cover marijuana use from age 12 and older. NORML stands for the responsible adult use of marijuana, so I wanted to know the facts on age 18 and older (some may wish for numbers age 21 and older; I only picked 18+ because the first data column is age 18-25).

    The essential caveat: these are the people who will tell these things to a stranger for a government survey.

    First of all, how many adults in the United States have ever smoked weed? The Survey breaks down the data by age categories and gives the percentage of the sample (Unweighted N) that answered yes or no to the question. Then they extrapolate, based on US adult population demographics, how many people in the United States (Weighted N) would answer yes or no.

    AGE GROUP WEIGHTED N PERCENT OF POP.
    18-25 YEARS OLD 16,790,928 51.3%
    26-34 YEARS OLD 17,579,601 49.8%
    35-49 YEARS OLD 34,676,635 53.1%
    50 OR OLDER 26,869,808 30.1%
    TOTAL 95,916,972 40.4%
    US Adults Who Have Ever Used Marijuana by Age

    US Adults Who Have Ever Used Marijuana by Age

    That’s 95 million folks who’ve smoked herb.  The percentage is how many within that age group have used – a majority of 18-25s and 35-49s and real close on the 26-34s.  Or look at it this way: If you see someone under age fifty, flip a coin. Heads, they’ve smoked pot, tails, they haven’t.

    When you look at the population of adults who have ever used marijuana, we find that young people (18-34) and middle-aged people (35-50) are equally represented at 36% of the population.

    More fun with government numbers and Excel 2007 after the break…

    Racial / Ethnic breakdown of all American Adults

    Racial / Ethnic breakdown of all American Adults

    Well over two-thirds (68%) of all adults in America are classified as “white” by the SAMHDA database.  About one-fourth (26%) of all adults are “Hispanic” or “African-American” based on the SAMHDA data.  (These proportions are growing for quite quickly for Hispanics, remaining steady for African-Americans, and declining for whites.  Demographers predict that by 2050, white Americans will no longer be a majority, falling below 50% of the population for the first time in our country’s history.)

    Racial / Ethnic breakdown of only American adults who have used cannabis

    Racial / Ethnic breakdown of only American adults who have used cannabis

    However, when you compare that pie chart to this one — the adults in America who have ever used marijuana, we find that white folks are consuming marijuana in larger proportions compared to their population.  Over three-fourths of all marijuana consuming adults are white (76%), while only two-fifths (20%) are Hispanics or African-American.  This is an interesting fact to note when compared to the proportions of white, black, and Latino people arrested, convicted, and incarcerated for marijuana.  (Hint: those brown pie slices get a whole lot bigger.)

    Adults Who Have Ever Used Cannabis by Race/Ethnicity

    Adults Who Have Ever Used Cannabis by Race/Ethnicity

    When broken down by racial/ethnic groups, we find that Hispanics are actually less likely to have used cannabis than any other group but Asians (about 1 out of 4 Latinos have used marijuana and only 1 out of 6 Asians… no matter what Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar may have led you to believe.)

    US Adults Who Use Marijuana Annually by Age

    US Adults Who Use Marijuana Annually by Age

    Concentrating only on the 22,003,805 estimated American adults who have used cannabis at least once in the past year yields some interesting figures as well. As expected, younger people are the most likely cannabis consumers. A full 28% of people aged 18-25 use cannabis annually, and over 11% are using cannabis more than 100 days per year, more than the 9% who use less than monthly. But by ages 26-34, all those figures drop by half or more (so much for the new Pot 2.0′s addictive powers.) By ages 35-49, even though chronic and occasional/rare use drops by half again, there are still one out of twelve middle-aged Americans using marijuana at least once per year.

    US Adult Chronic Marijuana Use by Age

    US Adult Chronic Marijuana Use by Age

    36.9% of all annual adult marijuana smokers use marijuana more than 100 times per year, meaning there are an estimated 8,120,045 chronic tokers out there. Almost half of these users are aged 18-25.

    So remember, dear marijuana smoker, you are not alone. 95,916,972 American adults have used marijuana. 22,003,805 American adults have used marijuana this year. 8,120,045 American adults have likely used marijuana today. If only 1% of people who smoked pot today donated a dollar to NORML, we’d beat our advertising fundraising goal four times over.

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