UNITED STATES OF CANNABIS

According to a recent Yahoo News/Marist Poll, “Weed & The American Family,” nearly 52% of American adults have tried Marijuana.[1]  This works out to roughly 129 million adult Americans who have used Marijuana at some point in their lives (in one form or another) with more than 44% of these individuals currently continuing to use it.  Fifty-five million of them (or 22%) would describe themselves as current consumers — with the survey defining “current use” as having used marijuana at least once or twice in the past year.  Of those 55 million current users of Marijuana, more than 35 million would describe themselves as “regular users” who use marijuana at least once or twice a month.

Now before we begin to complain that these numbers are either high or low, please observe these survey responses with more than a bit of skepticism.  These social survey respondents agreed to provide details about their Marijuana use to a random stranger who dialed them on their landline or mobile phone and began asking them questions from an elaborate social survey.  While the survey purports to have an error rate of plus or minus 2.9%, I have my doubts.  Given the current prohibition of Marijuana under federal law, it is quite reasonable that not every respondent who agreed to answer these questions from a stranger purporting to take a social survey was entirely forthcoming with their responses.  In short, the real number is probably much larger.

Diving deeper into the numbers, you can see a number of important trends that emerge.  Amongst the Americans who currently use Marijuana, a majority are parents (54%) with nearly one-third with children under 18.  There are generally more males than females that use Marijuana (55% to 45%);  a majority are Millenials (52%);  a majority earn less than $ 50k per year (54%);  and nearly 7 of 10 self-admitted Marijuana consumers do not have a college degree and do not practice a religion at all.  They are more likely to describe themselves as Democrats (43%) or independents (42%), than Republicans (14%).

According to a recent 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade. The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 32% today.  The relatively recent change in the legal status of Cannabis in the United States has corresponded with a rapid rise in the social acceptance of Cannabis and change in social opinions and values.   For example, the US, eleven States and the District of Columbia have legalized the possession and use of Cannabis, along with thirty-three States who have legalized its medical use.  This has correlated during the same time with an exponential increase in the number of Americans who believe the use of Cannabis should be legal.

This has opened the doors to the possibility of eliminating the largest social consequence of being a Cannabis consumer – namely, the threat of arrest and conviction for a crime of possession.   A recent analysis of the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (“NIBRS”) demonstrates that despite the larger societal-wide acceptance of Cannabis, arrests for Marijuana continue to go up (even for small amounts) and that racial disparities persist in those arrest rates.

According to FBI crime statistics in September 2018, there were 1.6 million arrests for drug possession, sale, or manufacture — a number that has increased every year since 2015 after declining over the previous decade.  Meanwhile, arrests for violent crime and property crime have continued to trend downward.  The FBI gathers crime statistics from thousands of law enforcement programs around the country that voluntarily report their numbers to keep track of larger trends.  Drug arrests are classified into four categories: 1) heroin or cocaine and their derivatives, 2) marijuana 3) synthetic or manufactured drugs like fentanyl and 4) other dangerous non-narcotic drugs like barbiturates.  In 2018 nationwide, there were approximately 663,367 arrests involving marijuana.  These Marijuana arrests account for 71% of all of the arrests for drug crimes – meaning that the “War on Drugs” is still a “War on Marijuana.”

White people make up three out of every five Marijuana arrests, with Blacks accounting for a quarter and Hispanics still less.  Overall, Marijuana arrests make up the largest single category of drug arrests.  And, as recent headlines have attested, Blacks and Hispanics are arrested disproportionately in terms of their share of the overall population.

Given that a majority of adult Americans now favor legalization at a national rate of nearly 67% and given that a majority of the States have enacted some form of cannabis regulation, it is clear that the United States is about to enter a period where Cannabis support is at super-majority levels.  This raises any number of possibilities about how the United States can absorb Cannabis Culture into a new legal structure that reflects the generally accepted nature of the plant.

A number of options are currently under consideration.  For instance, the States may call a Constitutional Convention to enshrine access to Cannabis as a right under the United States Constitution (with two thirds of the States enacting it, much like with Prohibition of Alcohol in the 1920’s).  Or that Congress may pass laws permitting the States the freedom to decide for themselves (the STATES Act now introduced in both Houses).  Or that the President by Executive Order can order the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to de-schedule or re-schedule Cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act based upon new discoveries about the medical benefits of the plant.

Regardless, Cannabis Culture has driven powerful change in America over the last twenty years and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.  As the public opinion surveys clearly indicate, American Cannabis consumers are young and opposition to general acceptance is rapidly dying away as the States continue to chip away at the last remaining barriers to access.

“Marijuana” is used in this article to indicate the Schedule I drug known as Cannabis Sativa, and not Hemp, also recognized as Cannabis Sativa but having a THC content under .3% under State and federal law.

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