Marijuana Use By The Numbers

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 10, 2009

    FYI: Feel free to also comment on this commentary (and digg it) at the Huffington Post here and at Alternet.org here.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has once again released their annual survey on “drug use and health” — you know, the one where representatives of the federal government go door-to-door and ask Americans if they are presently breaking state and federal law by using illicit drugs. The same survey where respondents have historically under reported their usage of alcohol and tobacco — these two legal substances — by as much as 30 to 50 percent, and arguably under report their use of illicit substances by an even greater margin. The same survey that — despite these inherent limitations — “is the primary source of statistical information on the use of illegal drugs by the U.S. population.” Yeah, that one.

    So what does the government’s latest round of ‘statistical (though highly questionable) information’ tell us? Nothing we didn’t already know.

    Despite 70+ years of criminal prohibition, marijuana still remains widely popular among Americans, with over 102 million Americans (41 percent of the U.S. population) having used it during their lifetimes, 26 million (10 percent) having used it in the past year, and over 15 million (6 percent) admitting that they use it regularly. (By contrast, fewer than 15 percent of adults have ever tried cocaine, the second most ‘popular’ illicit drug, and fewer than 2 percent have ever tried heroin — so much for that supposed ‘gateway effect.’) Predictably, all of the 2008 marijuana use figures are higher than those that were reported for the previous year — great work John Walters!

    Equally predictably, the government’s long-standing prohibition and anti-pot ‘scare’ campaigns have done little, if anything, to dissuade young people from trying it. According to the survey, 15 percent of those age 14 to 15 have tried pot (including 12 percent in the past year), as have 31 percent of those age 16 to 17 (a quarter of which have done so in the past year) — percentages that make marijuana virtually as popular as alcohol among these age groups. By age 20, 45 percent of adolescents have tried pot, and nearly a third of those age 18 to 20 have done so in the past year. And by age 25, 54 percent of the population has admittedly used marijuana.

    Question: Does anyone still believe that marijuana prohibition is working — or that all of these people deserve to be behind bars?

    For too long, advocates of prohibition have framed their arguments on the false assumption that the continued enforcement of said laws “protects our children.” As the numbers above illustrate, this premise is nonsense. In fact, just the opposite is true.

    The government’s war on cannabis and cannabis consumers endangers the health and safety of our children. It enables young people to have unregulated access to marijuana — easier access than they presently have to alcohol. It enables young people to interact and befriend pushers of other illegal, more dangerous drugs. It compels young people to dismiss the educational messages they receive pertaining to the potential health risks posed by the use of “hard drugs” and prescription pharmaceuticals, because kids say, “If they lied to me about pot, why wouldn’t they be lying to me about everything else, too?”

    Most importantly, the criminal laws are far more likely to result in having our children arrested, placed behind bars, and stigmatized with a lifelong criminal record than they are likely to in any way discourage them to try pot.

    In short, what the results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health is simple and consistent; in fact, we say it all the time: Remember prohibition? It still doesn’t work!

    75 responses to “Marijuana Use By The Numbers”

    1. […] here: Marijuana Use By The Numbers Share and […]

    2. Rick Einstein says:

      If anything, as your article eludes, marijuana prohibition has kept marijuana a vital part of youth culture, being ‘against the establishment’ and, subsequently, ‘hip’. This may be why so many people consider it a gateway drug, simply because it’s cool to try, not to mention more easily available than alcohol, when you’re young. Regretfully, keeping it illegal and demonizing it the same way we do cocaine or heroine is probably driving numbers for those drugs up. So much for pulling the wool over their eyes; instead, honest drug education and sensible policies could effectively leave citizens with a moral responsibility to know party safely.

    3. Danzr Von Thai says:

      ah soo…

      Same ol’ same ol’… * 142^d8 * Netherlands: Dutch Lawmakers May Limit Coffee-Shop Access http://tinyurl.com/ner2ab #norml #R_U_outavit #Danzr_1 #Buddha #Weed

      (C) c);-)

    4. fla activist says:

      you know, its a damn shame they can never know just how many people are in fear of being truthful about this count thing.you can damn sure bet their are many, many more of us who may admit to using or, have tried using cannabis if their wasnt such a fear of losing home and family from being targeted as a drug user. and, this whole worry about the children thing as a main reason for proibition well, if the damn fools would legalize and regulate it for adult consumption only, our children would have a hard time getting their hands on it . look at alcohol dammit.yea, and alcohol….when i was young, my folks drank up a storm, havin a good ole time so, naturally, i began drinkin and just had a blast with my friends and our first thought was….gee ,if this stuff is fun, i wonder what its like to smoke pot..of course, that was the best thing i could have done cause, it kept me away from alcohol which ended up destroying much of my family. come on government …listen to the people who know best..

    5. I wish everyone had a common sense switch somewhere in their brains that could be easily turned on. What is really funny and ironic is that if you somehow got all the prohibitionists to get high just once and got them thinking about the drug war, their view would probably change.

    6. Benjamin says:

      well, not too surprising. hopefully the numbers keep rising so as to force the Supreme Court to make a ruling (hopefully) in favor of states’ rights. that, or they can arrest everyone who uses pot and see what that does to our economy as opposed to regulating and taxing pot to responsible adults 21 or older. fuck, as a 19 year old, I’d be more than happy to wait 2 years to smoke pot legally. since it’s illegal though, I think I’ll go drink and drive…since alcohol and cars are both legal 😀

    7. Gabriel Robles says:

      that gateway myth is bull$ man i started with cocaine at first but then i started smoking cannabis and i liked it and it also helped me with muscular pain.(no im not old cause im overweight and started walking like 3-4 miles daily).the only reason its a gateway is because of prohibition!

    8. Vladimir M. Ortega says:


    9. pass ab 390 says:

      cut the bullshit and legalize our weed this charade has gone on long enough!!! amsterdamn makes us look like rubes, and we are. land of the(free?) government nannies… if the president would just legalize pot i would suggest he get a third term..