Ending Prohibition When Only 13% of Adults Are Smoking?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel August 11, 2016

    C1_8734_r_xThe latest Gallup Poll, based on polling conducted from July 13-17, 2016, reports that 13% of adults in the US are current marijuana smokers, and 43% have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives. According to Gallup, the numbers of adults acknowledging their personal use of marijuana has risen from 7% in 2013 to 11% in 2015; and to 13% in 2016.

    This may surprise some marijuana smokers, who tend to choose their friends (at least partially) based on their mutual enjoyment of marijuana, and to whom it may seem as if a majority of Americans are current smokers, but the great majority of Americans are not current marijuana users.

    The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it — at least double the rate seen among each older age group.

    In addition, religiosity appears to be a key determinant for current marijuana usage, with only 2% of those who report regular church attendance and 7% of those who report frequent church attendance acknowledging current marijuana usage. Apparently marijuana smoking is still considered bad behavior, or “sinful,” among some religious communities.

     How Are We Winning Politically?

    Which raises the obvious question: how is the legalization of marijuana continuing to move forward politically in more and more states if only one out of 8 Americans are current users? The answer: you don’t have to be a marijuana smoker to oppose prohibition.

    Most of us support gay rights, although most of us are not gay or lesbian; and most of us support equality for all minorities, while by definition most of us are not minorities. Most Americans seek to treat others in a fair manner, despite our gender or racial differences, or our sexual preferences. And the same is true about marijuana smokers.

    A majority of the non-smokers have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy that causes more harm to society than the use of marijuana itself. They favor an end to marijuana prohibition, although they are not “pro-pot.” In fact, a recent poll by The Third Way discovered that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the non-smokers who favor legalization continue to hold an unfavorable impression of recreational marijuana smokers. They do not believe we should be treated like criminals, but neither do they approve of our marijuana usage.

    Current Support Levels

     From a low of only 12% public support for legalization when NORML was founded in 1970, we have seen those support levels build gradually over four decades, as Americans became more familiar with marijuana and less fearful of the possible harm from responsible marijuana smoking. Gallup first found a majority of Americans supporting full legalization in 2013, and their most recent data (released in October, 2015) finds the current support level at 58%. Several other national polls find similar support levels, with one 2016 Associated Press poll finding support at 61%.

    All of which suggests that we have largely won the hearts and minds of most adult Americans, including a majority of those who do not smoke. And that is really all we need to continue forward politically. We don’t need to “turn-on” more Americans. Rather we need to continue to demonstrate that responsible marijuana smokers present no threat to non-smokers, or to society as a whole.

    So long as we do that, a clear majority of Americans are willing to respect our right to smoke marijuana, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax at the end of the day. Thankfully a majority of Americans understand and support the concept of personal privacy.


    51 responses to “Ending Prohibition When Only 13% of Adults Are Smoking?”

    1. Debra K Pidick says:

      ? is, how many will start usin’ once it IS legal? The “responsible” users, like myself, using for pain relief, because nothing else works, fortunately, won’t be affected one way or the other. But, the child, the grandfather, & anyone else “forced” to take FDA approved drugs for pain relief, that do not help, are the ones that will truly suffer. From adverse side affects. Research how many people the FDA has killed with FDA approved, man made, synthetic, life threatening, drugs? You will be surprised!

      • southernhippie says:

        If you go by the three states that have both medical and legal. Not much has changed(cept may be more jail space and less kids using pot). The only thing is the numbers are higher is because the removal of a stigma and folks can now speak free of from any ill effects of the law. At least the local and state, federal has its collective head up its collective butt for the last 120 years.

    2. Catherine says:

      I believe these cannabis consumption figures are still unrealistically low. I’m a member of NORML, but not certain how I would respond to a telephone poll asking me to incriminate myself….I’m old enough to have a paid-off home, vehicles, and a pension that could potentially be in jeopardy.

      • Drifty says:

        Catherine is exactly right about self-reporting illegal drug use. Pot use is typically under-reported. Duh. Just compare self reported pot use rates in, say, Colorado with rates in Kansas. Polls will always show far more pot users in Colo. But 13-15% is probably pretty close to a mean average across the two states and many regions. Peeps in illegal states just lie more often when asked about their pot smoking.

        • Matthew says:

          Moreover, Americans’ self admissions are the biggest hammer that our opponents hit us with. We should be more stridently criticizing our letting anonymous school children set our world drug policies, with these. Have you ever been to Amstelkring, where a whole Catholic church was hidden in a house attic, with the priest skeeping behind a false wall? Don’t dismiss churchgoers who aren’t foolhearty enuf to play this bad game. I’ve been practicing Catholic all my life, supporting parish member, and I hope that more people realize the folly of admitting to use in these surveys. Keith, if Colorado’s youth didn’t report a decline in use, we’d be a million times worse off, at this critical time right now. Think about the real way to digest these matters!!

      • I responded the day this article came out and likened asking someone if they smoked to asking someone if they are a pedophile. Who would answer affirmatively for either of those questions. I’ve been a patient for 18 months but been a fan since I was a teenager in high school. I had a LOT of formal education and did very well in school even though I was a “stoner”.

      • Artemis Rose says:

        I was going to post exactly the same sentiments like that of Catherine. Who in the right mind would say that they are using an ‘illegal’ drug. Duh!

    3. Evening Bud says:

      I suspect there are far more marijuana users than that percentage indicates.

      I know very few people my age, and I’m 61 y.o., who don’t use MJ regularly or semi-regularly. And nearly every younger person I know, ages 25-35, smokes.

      As Catherine above says, it always feels risky admitting it publicly. I’ve revealed it on these boards, and to my doctor, but otherwise keep it to myself.

    4. YearofAction says:

      The other 87% don’t realize that they are also prevented from non-smoked cannabis consumption.

      99% * 0.3% * 710 => 420

    5. Oliver Steinberg says:

      As a cannabis campaigner, I interact with a cross-section of the populace. My impression is that the % of adult users is about 1 in 10 or 12. It’s probably more on the coasts than in the Midwest. If it weren’t for employment drug testing, it would be double this–although still less than the % of alcohol users. Too bad for cannabis reform that those religious weed-averse folks tend to vote as faithfully as they go to church, whereas the cannabis consumers are one of the least-likely-to-vote demographic categories. Cannabis reform ballot measures have ALWAYS depended on non-user votes in order to win, a fact which should encourage us to re-double our efforts this year.

      • Julian says:

        Don’t make me into a “spokesman for all Catholics” like Bill Maher did to Jim Gaffigan, but I regularly attend church and regularly smoke marijuana.
        I know many people at church that also smoke marijuana either because they played football with my little brothers, or they were at one of our family parties, or if they’re older, one of my nephews caught them smoking while setting pins at the old bowling alley. Ive long heard the local police can be found gambling there in our small town, amidst the beer and the “smoke.” If you polled any one of these people at church they would probably say no, they don’t partake. If you asked them at the party theyd say “puff puff pass” or “pass it dont harrass it.” Just as many Americans become “cafeteria Catholics” there are millions of “cafeteria marijuana consumers,” or “casual smokers” as it were, who either due to small children at home, school on a pell grant or as you mention, working for the piss vampires, we are not at liberty to consume every time we desire. Which is fairly normal, but the question is then under what circumstances will we all be honest at the polls? When we don’t have to worry about asset forfeiture? We can get a federal investigation into our accounts and families just from transfering +$10,000 sooner than smoking in public view. Let’s be honest, we live in a communist police state disguised within an Oligarchy of beurocracy and private business built on profit from prohibition and were polling the victims of an active drug war about their marijuana consumption? Oh yeah, but were not Brazil or the Philippines so we should be thankful and honest.

        So we learn to bend the bad rules to get by. Now its time to engage our Congressional candidates and make new good rules. Even if that means living in this pivitol time in our history, exposed to our better, norml nature with so much to lose and yet so much to win.

    6. I moved to Portland last November and I would say it is a majority of adults I meet here utilize cannabis for either adult use or treatment. It is still federally illegal so I would still say people are somewhat paranoid to broadcast their affinity for the plant. With the possibility of Trump being elected and him appointing Christie as AG it is probably not wise to reveal the info.

    7. Dave says:

      I would imagine if the legal status changed that percentage would increase 5 fold. The fact that it is illegal may behaving an effect on the honesty of their answer.

    8. Mark Mitcham says:

      From a social perspective, The difference between the two views a) “Most Americans seek to treat others in a fair manner,” and b) “marijuana smoking is still considered bad behavior,” is still a wide, wide chasm.

      You and I may feel that the only “fair” thing to do regarding cannabis is to legalize it.

      But it’s been my experience, consistant with the statistics above, that many people, both religious and secular, subscribe to both views: they consider themselves to be fair-minded, but they wouldn’t want to promote or facilitate what they consider to be a “bad” thing (marijuana.)

      The problems come along once one has accepted the false proposition that marijuana use is “bad”. It is a proposition that is unsubstantiated by any valid moral measure.

      It’s a problem because most fair-minded people will also believe in the idea of Justice, and won’t want to see unchecked criminal behaviour running rampant in our society. Therefore, they are going to believe that we must deserve some kind of punishment — provided, of course, that the punishment fits the crime. But they certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to promote the behaviour any way.

      But the real question is “Why should cannabis use be a crime in the first place? Why shouldn’t cannabis be considered ‘good’ rather than ‘bad?'” And I have found that getting people to consider this more fundamental question is extremely difficult.

      • Rod is on the gas says:

        Yes Mark, I believe it’s that simple also.
        A few days ago, my 40 year-old son-in-law and I engaged in a family discussion in front of a large gathering of friends and family. He’s a flaming prohibitionist and I’m a cannabis advocate.
        The topic eventually boiled down to “good vs bad”. While I come from decades of experience, he increases his hate based on feelings. His friends don’t love mine. My friends fear his increasing hatred.
        The next day, in private I asked my daughter, his wife, is there something new going on. “No, he has peer pressure which is changing him,” she replied. Alcohol is good in his circle and is seen as bad in my circle.
        I’ve known this young man 22 years, I’ve always enjoyed my cannabis in his presence.
        It’s sad watching hatred grow and expand.

      • Mark Mitcham hits on the complexity of the situation very well. Thanks Keith for raising this conversation to begin with, it’s a fundamental one that leads to public contradictions like we see in Washington. Legalization doesn’t clear up the complexity, but changes the possible openings for cultivating a post-prohibition culture (in which cannabis use isn’t viewed as an exceptional social threat requiring evidence-free forms of control and punishment).

      • Oliver Steinberg says:

        Mark, your comments are insightful and greatly appreciated.

    9. Don B says:

      The question is oddly limited to smoking. Many users don’t smoke their cannabis, so use rates are higher than this poll found.

      • mexweed says:

        “Democracy” in action: in 2011 a narrow posse of editors voted 4-0 to ban my username from editing cannabis-related articles on Wikipedia. I was charged with “original research” and “single-interest editor” for promoting single-toke utensils.
        The leader of the blacklisters claimed to be a medical marijuana user in California, and one of his achievements was to post on the “Joint” article a picture of a commercial “joint” along with a cone-shaped container with a band name and “One Full Gram Inside” inscribed on the outside. This clearly fits the WP definition of Spam and should be deleted. That editor was probably in cahoots with the San Francisco company which promoted the hot burning overdose monoxide “smoking” product.
        The same editor also removed references to 25-mg single toke (“prescriptive”), and dismantled the “One-hitter (smoking)” article which contained pictures of a Calumet, Kiseru, Midwakh and Sebsi.
        Fortunately a different editor has restored the One-hitter article as of December 2015 and it is still there today! (Whew.) Title should be changed from “One-hitter (smoking)” to “One-hitter (vaporizing)” but I can’t do that unless I adopt a new username and risk being accused of Sockpuppetry. Hopefully some reader here will risk being accused of Meatpuppetry and get that job done.

        • mexweed says:

          Erratum, “band name” in second paragraph above should read “brand name”. Actually I wouldn’t mind if they band $moking altogether, there’s no excuse for anyone not knowing how to VAPE with a flexdrawtube oneheater.

      • BlueMama says:

        I noticed that too, Don. Consumption does not equal smoking. Even folks who vape may say “no” and anyone using edibles, salves or extracts.

      • Miles says:

        You got that right! Personally I really dislike smoking. I use an herbalizer vaporizer and love it! Not only is it easier on the lungs, it is a more efficient way of utilizing your precious herb; meaning it takes less to get the same level of buzz. If that isn’t enough I find the quality of the buzz is superior since the chemicals haven’t been burned and possibly altered into new compounds because of the combustion that occurs with smoking.

        One more thing about vaporizing is that it doesn’t bother my housemates since the smell is very minimal; if they notice it at all. You sure can’t say that about smoking@

    10. Julian says:

      I second Catherine’s statement; and I have citizen lobbied my own state representatives in person, suit and tie, giving them my address and phone number (but not my license plate number; in fact nobody fills that out in the registration book at the check-in box of any legislator’s office Ive been in… Its like You tube asking us if we want to “skip this ad” … Why? Why ask?)
      Fact is as a NORML member or citizen lobbyist we aren’t in any real threat to answer a marijuana poll honestly. Even the one about growing at your home; If youre not growing that is 😉
      However that fear of answering even an anonymous poll correctly is more influencing than we may give credit. Instinctively we know more than %50 of Americans have consumed marijuana because weve seen it! Our second hand smoke at various venues gave everyone around us a contact high and if anything people moved closer to the smoke! Cant say that about tobacco cigarettes!
      And yet there’s that pervasive fear… Or sometimes character embellishment; its like all the white people on scholarship applications checking “native american”; sometimes people give answers theyre not sure of because they think theyll be rewarded one way or the other.
      And ultimately, as Keith points out, thats one place we can all agree on about legalization; Americans want a fair, participatory rewards system, where our government functions in the same balance our endocannabinoid rewards-system functions when it is properly nourished and balanced within our own bodies.