11 ways pot has gone mainstream in the US

By Christopher Ingraham analysis

Marijuana plants for sale at a medical marijuana provider in downtown Los Angeles. Photo / AP
Marijuana plants for sale at a medical marijuana provider in downtown Los Angeles. Photo / AP

Many marijuana users hide their stash in their closets. Most people who use marijuana are parents. There are almost as many marijuana users as there are cigarette smokers in the US.

Those facts and many more are among the conclusions of new survey from Yahoo News and Marist University, which illustrates how pot has become a part of everyday life for millions of Americans.


1 Nearly 55 million adults currently use marijuana

More than half of American adults have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, according to the survey. Nearly 55 million of them, or 22 per cent, currently use it - the survey defines "current use" as having used marijuana at least once or twice in the past year. Close to 35 million are what the survey calls "regular users," or people who use marijuana at least once or twice a month.

Those numbers are larger than what we see in some other surveys. A Gallup poll released last year found that more than 33 million adults identified as "current" marijuana users, although it didn't specify a time frame the way this survey did.

The latest federal survey on drug use found about 33 million adults used marijuana in the past year, considerably lower than the Marist poll's 55 million figure.

But those federal numbers are from 2015, while the Marist poll was conducted last month. Considering four more states have legalised marijuana since the federal survey was done, attitudes on use may have changed enough that more are comfortable admitting their use to a survey.

Survey mode is another potential factor: The Marist poll was done via phone, while the federal survey involved interviewers speaking with people in their homes. Considering marijuana remains fully illegal at the federal level, people may simply be more comfortable admitting their use to a voice at the end of a phone line than a representative of the federal government.

Regardless, 55 million people is a staggering number. It would mean that there are nearly as many marijuana users as there are cigarette smokers (59 million).

2 Support for recreational marijuana may not be as robust as it seems

Public opinion surveys consistently show that support for marijuana legalisation hovers around 60 per cent. But most of those surveys don't ask respondents what, exactly, legal marijuana means to them - they just ask whether marijuana should be legal or not.

The Marist survey asked about medical and recreational marijuana separately. It found that about 83 per cent of Americans say they support medical marijuana, in line with what other national surveys have shown. But respondents were closely divided on the question of "legalising the use of marijuana for recreational use" - 49 per cent support it, 47 per cent oppose.

That lines up with a detailed breakdown of the legalisation issue in a survey by the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Centre last year, where 61 per cent said they supported legalisation, but 24 per cent of those supporters clarified that they only supported medical use.

3 People who have tried marijuana are much more approving of it than those who haven't

Prior marijuana use is one of the biggest predictors of support for recreational marijuana legalisation. Fully 70 per cent of Americans who have tried marijuana at least once support legalising recreational weed. Only 26 per cent of those who haven't tried it say the same.

In short, people who have experience using marijuana generally think it should be legal. This has potentially significant implications for the national legalisation debate: As marijuana becomes legal in more states, more people will try it. This could lead to greater support for legalisation, even more states legalizing, more people trying it, and so on.

4 Most Americans think smoking weed is 'socially acceptable'

Regardless of whether they support legalisation or use it themselves, 56 per cent of Americans say that using marijuana is "socially acceptable," compared to 42 per cent who say it isn't. Again, there's a big split here between people who've tried it (74 per cent say it's acceptable) and people who haven't (37 per cent).

Majorities also said it would make no difference to them if they learned that their doctor, clergyman, favourite athlete, favourite celebrity or children's schoolteacher used marijuana in their personal life. Americans do, however, disapprove of parents smoking pot in front of their kids: 79 per cent say they would have less respect for such a person.

5 Americans say weed is less risky than tobacco, alcohol or painkillers

By a margin of 72 per cent to 20 per cent, Americans say that regular alcohol use is more of a health risk than regular marijuana use. The margins for tobacco (76 to 18) and prescription painkillers (67 to 20) are similar.

But the public is split on whether pot is a risk in and of itself: 51 per cent say using marijuana is a health risk, while 44 per cent say it is not. Like any drug, there are indeed serious risks associated with marijuana use: addiction, long-term health problems, driving impairment, you name it. While it's true that the risks associated with marijuana are generally lesser than the risks of using alcohol or other drugs, that doesn't mean that it's "safe," full-stop.

6 Marijuana's legal status isn't a huge barrier to use

Asked why they don't use pot, 27 per cent of marijuana abstainers cited its illegality. But the rest pointed to a host of other reasons: 26 per cent said they simply don't like it. 16 per cent said they don't use because it's not healthy. Others said that it would interfere with work or school or that they simply had no desire to use it.

These numbers are mirrored in another question: Asked whether they would use marijuana if the federal government legalised it nationally, only 28 per cent said they'd be likely to do so. The rest said the legal change wouldn't make much of a difference in their behaviour.

This points to a simple reality: Marijuana is already the most ubiquitous illicit drug in the country, rivalling legal drugs like tobacco in popularity. For most people who want to use it, getting hold of some pot is simply a matter of a trip to the darkweb, or Craigslist, or a call to a friend-of-a-friend.

The survey suggests that marijuana use rivals cigarette smoking in the US. Photo / AP
The survey suggests that marijuana use rivals cigarette smoking in the US. Photo / AP

7 Most marijuana users are millennials

Fully 52 per cent of the country's 55 million pot users are millennials. Majorities of marijuana users are male, make under US$50,000 a year and lack a college degree. Only 14 per cent of current users are Republicans, and over two-thirds supported Hillary Clinton in the latest presidential election.

Interestingly, millennial marijuana users appear to be the most conflicted about their use: 25 per cent of them say they've felt "guilty" about their marijuana habit, compared to only 17 per cent of non-millennials. That brings us to the next point:

8 Few people want to admit they use marijuana just for fun

This is one of the survey's most interesting findings: asked why they currently use marijuana, only 16 per cent of smokers said it was "just to have fun". The rest cited a variety of utilitarian reasons: 37 per cent said they used marijuana to relax; 19 per cent said they do it to relieve pain, 10 per cent said it helps them be social.

If there's any group in society who do something "just to have fun," you'd think it would be marijuana users. The stereotypical image of the "stoner" is the guy blazed out of his mind on his couch, eating Funyuns and giggling at his TV.

But most users don't see themselves this way. For them, marijuana is less about recreation and more of a product that fulfills a specific need in their life: relaxation, or pain relief, or social lubricant.

9 Where people hide their stash - dressers, fake cans or tins, or locked containers

Roughly four in 10 marijuana users hide their stash from others. Among those who hide their pot, the dresser (20 per cent) is the most popular place of concealment, followed by fake cans, containers or books (11 per cent), in safes or locked containers (11 per cent) and the closet (8 per cent).

Astonishingly, 3 per cent of marijuana users keep their marijuana in their cars. If you're familiar with the practices of highway drug interdiction you know this is a terrible idea. Drug task forces routinely use minor traffic infractions like busted taillights, failure to turn or speeding as a pretext for searching for contraband in a person's car, often with the aid of a drug-sniffing dog.

Marijuana users say they hide their stashes to keep it away from the prying eyes of children, law enforcement and parents/grandparents, respectively.

10 More than half of marijuana users are parents

According to Marist, 54 per cent of adults who use marijuana are parents. A majority of those parents - 16 million of them - have children under the age of 18.

Childhood exposure has been a big talking point for opponents of marijuana legalisation. States like Colorado have seen an uptick in the incidence of small children inadvertently eating marijuana edibles and having to go to the emergency room. In raw number terms, however, these cases are still very rare. Nationwide, poison control centres get calls for pediatric exposure to marijuana and alcohol at identical rates once you control for the total number of users of both substances.

In the Marist survey, 94 per cent of marijuana-using parents of underage kids say they've never used it in front of their kids or shared it with them.

11 Most people are open about marijuana use with their family and friends.

Marijuana users are very open about their habit with their significant others (95 per cent of users have told them) and close friends (95 per cent again). And 72 per cent have told their parents about their marijuana use, and 60 per cent have told their kids.

Twenty one per cent of users have either smoked marijuana in front of their parents or shared a joint with them. Among older users with adult children, 35 per cent have smoked with or in front of their kids. Over 60 per cent of users have done so with their close friends.

Millennials are the most social pot users - only 25 per cent of them typically smoke alone. The rest usually share with significant others and friends. Older pot users are more likely to smoke alone: 40 per cent of the over-35 crowd usually use marijuana by themselves.

- Washington Post

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