Marijuana Usage Rates Remain Relatively Steady Over Past Several Decades

Nationwide trends toward legalization and decriminalization of marijuana is not actually increasing the number of users.

Critics of the changing marijuana tides would have you think that all this talk about pot is likely causing an increase in usage. We hear about marijuana on the news, on sitcoms, and at the watercooler—surely this growing acceptance has led to a growth in usage, right? Well, a recent Gallup survey says that isn’t necessarily. As a matter of fact, among some age groups, marijuana use has actually declined.

The Gallup Consumption Habits poll is conducted annually, so it offers a unique picture into the habits of Americans. Among adults, pot usage has increased, but barely. This year, 38 percent of adults admitted to having tried marijuana in their life. In 1999, the rate was 34 percent, and 33 percent in 1985.

Marijuana use not increasingAmong young adults, aged 18 to 29, usage has actually dropped over the years. It first climbed significantly in the seventies, going from only 8 percent in 1969 to 35 percent in 1973 and 56 percent in 1977. In 1999, young adults who have tried marijuana dropped to 46 percent. This year, it dropped again, to 36 percent.

Interestingly, though over one-third of American adults admit to having tried marijuana, only about 7 percent said they actively use it.

Also interesting, the rate at which elderly Americans admit to having tried pot. In 1969 and 1973, only 1 percent of adults over the age of 65 admit to trying marijuana. In 1999, that figure was at 3 percent and this year it jumped to 17 percent. This could be a sign of growing acceptance of marijuana as an alternative to pain medications and other potentially damaging prescription drugs.

While “liberals” have one of the highest rates of current marijuana use at 13 percent, both moderates (8%) and conservatives (2%) still admit to using it.

There are relatively minor differences in marijuana use by race — between whites and nonwhites — and by education. There are no income-related differences among those who say they have tried marijuana, but lower-income Americans are the most likely to say they currently use it. This is consistent with the higher percentage of young adults who say they smoke it, given young adults report relatively lower household income figures.

With marijuana laws across the nation slowly coming to terms with Americans’ attitudes towards marijuana, it would be nice to know the percentage of adults choosing to use it weren’t risking incarceration every time they lit up.

If you are accused of any marijuana crime, call for a free criminal defense legal consultation.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Renter is a freelance writer and editor who writes about criminal justice issues.

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