A study published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry indicates that the number of cannabis users in the U.S. more than doubled in the 10+ years between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. (The JAMA study compared data gathered between April 2001 and April 2002 with data gathered between April 2012 and June 2013.)
Now, depending upon which media channels you follow, you may have seen this study touted under alarmist headlines such as “Marijuana Use Doubles in U.S., But So Do Problems.” But drill down past the headlines, read the extremely-accessible study itself, and the fact of increased adult usage begins to seem much less dire.
In 2001 there were 8 medical states (Maine among them), and in 2012 there were nearly twice as many. In the same timeframe, the general public’s approval of all cannabis use soared, as federal law enforcement agencies began (albeit slowly) to back away from a wholesale assault on peaceful cannabis consumers. Given these facts, is it any wonder that in 2012 more people were willing to admit to cannabis use than were willing to do so in 2002?
The numbers tell us that more U.S. citizens are using cannabis, as might be expected in a freer, legal, environment.
But they may also reflect the massive shift in public perception about the relative risks and benefits of cannabis use that has taken place since the turn of the 21st century. Perhaps some populations might feel more comfortable being honest about their use than they might have been in the past.
The JAMA study’s authors broke out some groups in particular, noting that increased reports of past-year cannabis use “were particularly notable among women (2.6% vs 6.9%), black individuals (4.7% vs 12.7%), Hispanic individuals (3.3% vs 8.4%), those in the South (2.9% vs 7.7%), and middle-aged (1.6% vs 5.9%) and older (0.04% vs 1.3%) adults.”
Women. African-Americans. Hispanics. Southerners. Seniors. Each group self-reporting more cannabis use in the past year than they did in the early 2000s.
Perhaps these numbers signify that more citizens who have in the past borne a disproportionate share of the burden of cannabis prohibition are less afraid to admit to their use of the plant these days. Perhaps these numbers signify that our elders, who grew up with the stigma and shame associated with cannabis use, are rediscovering the plant as an alternative to any number of prescription medications.
Perhaps a great, ever-increasing number of U.S. citizens are, separately yet together, ready to reclaim their right to use cannabis.