Pot Matters: Marijuana By The Numbers

Article by Jon Gettman, High Times

A vendor weighs buds for card-carrying medical marijuana patients attending Los Angeles' first-ever cannabis farmer's market at the West Coast Collective medical marijuana dispensary

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) publishes a data supplement to their annual anti-drug strategy. This compendium provides the metrics with which to measure their progress (or lack thereof) in countering the drug threat. (Countering the threat of illegal drugs is the new version of fighting the War on Drugs.)

In 1979, there were 23.8 million current marijuana users, but this dropped to 9.6 million in 1993. Incidentally, in the 1990s marijuana arrests were doubled. The number of marijuana users increased to 10.7 million in 2000, and further to 14.6 million in 2005, 17.4 million in 2010 and had reached 19.8 million in 2013, the last year of data reported in the 2015 supplement.

Given this upward trend in marijuana use since the mid-1990s, it is interesting to note that the percentage of people in the workforce testing positive for marijuana use has been in a general decline, from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 1.9 percent in 2011. However, in recent years, this has increased to 2.0 percent in 2012 and 2.4 percent in 2014.

The number of new marijuana users each year has increased about 10 percent from 2.2 million new users in 2002 to 2.4 million initiates in 2013. (By comparison, the number of new alcohol consumers increased from 3.9 million to 4.6 million in the same period.) The average age of first use of marijuana also increased—from 17 to 18 during this time.

Many people who support prohibition argue that keeping marijuana illegal encourages youths to perceive it as harmful, and they lament that legalization and other reforms decrease the number of 12- to 17-year-old youths who view marijuana use this way. The percentage of youths reporting that using marijuana once a month is harmful has dropped from 32.4 percent in 2002 to 24.2 percent in 2013. With respect to smoking marijuana once or twice a week, the harmfulness metric dropped from 51.5 percent in 2002 to 39.5 percent in 2013.

Nonetheless, marijuana use has begun to drop among 12th graders, for example, in recent years, from 22.9 percent in 2012 to 21.2 percent in 2014.

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