Cannabis Use Has Risen With Legalization and COVID-19 Lockdowns
by Bethan Rose
According to Worldometer, there are currently 333,408,350 people living in the United States as of Sept. 23, granting the country the third-highest population in the world. A poll recently conducted by Gallup brought those numbers into the context of the cannabis industry, discovering that nearly half of American adults have tried cannabis in their lifetime. Considering that just 4% of Americans reported cannabis use in 1969, it’s safe to say attitudes towards the plant are quickly evolving in the nation.
Gallup conducted its annual Consumption Habits poll from July 6 to 21, reporting that 49% of American adults have tried cannabis. This percentage has been rising steadily since Gallup began assessing citizens’ consumption habits over 50 years ago; it surpassed 20% in 1977, 30% in 1985, and 40% in 2015. However, we can’t be certain how accurate those older statistics are because of the stigma and propaganda that fueled the prohibition of cannabis.
The results of the poll also pointed towards a higher number of regular cannabis smokers in the U.S. as well. When Gallup initially measured regular cannabis consumption by individuals in 2013, they found that only 7% were regular cannabis smokers. However, that percentage has increased to an average hovering between 11% and 13% in recent years, currently sitting at 12%.
To explain the increases in cannabis consumption among Americans, Gallup points to generational patterns. Americans born in 1946—the oldest generation living today—are referred to as “traditionalists” who are less likely to have tried cannabis compared to other generations. Of the traditionalists, only 19% reported having tried cannabis, which is low compared to the 51% for millennials, 49% for generation X, and 50% for baby boomers.
Despite overall increased use by the population, a comparison of data from two different time periods—gathered through Gallup’s surveys and polls over the years—demonstrates little change in generational rates of cannabis use. Thus, according to Gallup, “the increase in the proportion of U.S. adults who have tried marijuana mainly reflects millennials replacing older traditionalists in the U.S. adult population.”
|All U.S. adults||34%||45%|
|Millennials (born 1981-1996)||n/a||51%|
|Gen X (born 1965-1990)||44%||49%|
|Baby boomers (born 1946-1964)||50%||50%|
|Traditionalists (born before 1946)||10%||19%|
Don’t think we’ve forgotten about the most obvious potential reasons behind the increase: destigmatization, decriminalization, and legalization. The increased percentage of people who have tried cannabis in their lifetime could be the result of increasing acceptance, legalization in many countries, and increased awareness of cannabis’ therapeutic potential.
Gallup concluded from the findings of this year’s poll alongside previous years’ findings that younger Americans are most likely to consume cannabis. When one compares the 20% of millennials, 11% of Gen Xers, 9% of baby boomers, and 1% of traditionalists who currently smoke cannabis, it is clear that there is a significant gap between the youngest generation (excluding Gen Z for lack of data) and the eldest (traditionalists).
Based on these numbers, Gallup asserts that “at least historically, people tend to try marijuana at a younger age but as they get older, most no longer continue smoking it.” However, it’s possible that this trend is changing due to the increasing legalization—and thus destigmatization—of cannabis. Studies on Gen Z (people born after 1996) will play a significant role in assessing the continuation or lack thereof of this trend in coming years.
While Gallup is waiting for more members of Gen Z to be viable for data collection, there is already evidence pointing to Gen Z as the fastest-growing group of consumers, with women leading the charge. According to Headset, a cannabis analytics firm, Gen Z women who were purchasing cannabis products grew by 151%, which is a lot when considering the eldest of the generation is only 24 years old.
In addition to the information on generational differences in cannabis use, Gallup’s poll also unveiled the following:
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