Different strains of marijuana flower on display at the Sparc dispensary in San Francisco, California. (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Many marijuana users hide their stash in their closets. Most people who use marijuana are parents. There are almost as many marijuana users as there are cigarette smokers in the U.S.
Those facts and many more are among the conclusions of new survey from Yahoo News and Marist University, which illustrates how pot has become a part of everyday life for millions of Americans. Here are 11 charts that explain how and why.
1. Nearly 55 million adults currently use marijuana
More than half of American adults have tried marijuana at least once in their lives, according to the survey. Nearly 55 million of them, or 22 percent, currently use it — the survey defines “current use” as having used marijuana at least once or twice in the past year. Close to 35 million are what the survey calls “regular users,” or people who use marijuana at least once or twice a month.
Those numbers are larger than what we see in some other surveys. A Gallup poll released last year found that more than 33 million adults identified as “current” marijuana users, although it didn't specify a time frame the way this survey did. The latest federal survey on drug use found about 33 million adults used marijuana in the past year, considerably lower than the Marist poll's 55 million figure.
But those federal numbers are from 2015, while the Marist poll was conducted last month. Considering four more states have legalized marijuana since the federal survey was done, attitudes on use may have changed enough that more are comfortable admitting their use to a survey.
Survey mode is another potential factor: The Marist poll was done via phone, while the federal survey involved interviewers speaking with people in their homes. Considering marijuana remains fully illegal at the federal level, people may simply be more comfortable admitting their use to a voice at the end of a phone line than a representative of the federal government.
Regardless, 55 million people is a staggering number. It would mean that there are nearly as many marijuana users as there are cigarette smokers (59 million).
How marijuana legalization in Washington, Colorado and Oregon is working out so far
Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada just approved recreational marijuana use. Here's what they can learn from Washington, Colorado and Oregon, states where marijuana use has already been legalized. (Daron Taylor, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)
2. Support for recreational marijuana may not be as robust as it seems
Public opinion surveys consistently show that support for marijuana legalization hovers around 60 percent. But most of those surveys don't ask respondents what, exactly, legal marijuana means to them — they just ask whether marijuana should be legal or not.
The Marist survey asked about medical and recreational marijuana separately. It found that about 83 percent of Americans say they support medical marijuana, in line with what other national surveys have shown. But respondents were closely divided on the question of “legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational use” — 49 percent support it, 47 percent oppose.
That lines up with a detailed breakdown of the legalization issue in a survey by the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center last year, where 61 percent said they supported legalization, but 24 percent of those supporters clarified that they only supported medical use.
3. People who have tried marijuana are much more approving of it than those who haven't
Prior marijuana use is one of the biggest predictors of support for recreational marijuana legalization. Fully 70 percent of Americans who have tried marijuana at least once support legalizing recreational weed. Only 26 percent of those who haven't tried it say the same.
In short, people who have experience using marijuana generally think it should be legal. This has potentially significant implications for the national legalization debate: As marijuana becomes legal in more states, more people will try it. This could lead to greater support for legalization, even more states legalizing, more people trying it, and so on.
4. Most Americans think smoking weed is 'socially acceptable'
Regardless of whether they support legalization or use it themselves, 56 percent of Americans say that using marijuana is “socially acceptable,” compared to 42 percent who say it isn't. Again, there's a big split here between people who've tried it (74 percent say it's acceptable) and people who haven't (37 percent).
Majorities also said it would make no difference to them if they learned that their doctor, clergyman, favorite athlete, favorite celebrity or children's schoolteacher used marijuana in their personal life. Americans do, however, disapprove of parents smoking pot in front of their kids: 79 percent say they would have less respect for such a person.
5. Americans say weed is less risky than tobacco, alcohol or painkillers
By a margin of 72 percent to 20 percent, Americans say that regular alcohol use is more of a health risk than regular marijuana use. The margins for tobacco (76 to 18) and prescription painkillers (67 to 20) are similar.
But the public is split on whether pot is a risk in and of itself: 51 percent say using marijuana is a health risk, while 44 percent say it is not. Like any drug, there are indeed serious risks associated with marijuana use: addiction, long-term health problems, driving impairment, you name it. While it's true that the risks associated with marijuana are generally lesser than the risks of using alcohol or other drugs, that doesn't mean that it's “safe,” full-stop.
6. Marijuana's legal status isn't a huge barrier to use
Asked why they don't use pot, 27 percent of marijuana abstainers cited its illegality. But the rest pointed to a host of other reasons: 26 percent said they simply don't like it. 16 percent said they don't use because it's not healthy. Others said that it would interfere with work or school or that they simply had no desire to use it.
These numbers are mirrored in another question: Asked whether they would use marijuana if the federal government legalized it nationally, only 28 percent said they'd be likely to do so. The rest said the legal change wouldn't make much of a difference in their behavior.
This points to a simple reality: Marijuana is already the most ubiquitous illicit drug in the country, rivaling legal drugs like tobacco in popularity. For most people who want to use it, getting hold of some pot is simply a matter of trip to the darkweb, or Craigslist, or a call to a friend-of-a-friend.
7. Most marijuana users are millennials
Fully 52 percent of the country's 55 million pot users are millennials. Majorities of marijuana users are male, make under $50,000 a year and lack a college degree. Only 14 percent of current users are Republicans, and over two-thirds supported Hillary Clinton in the latest presidential election.
Interestingly, millennial marijuana users appear to be the most conflicted about their use: 25 percent of them say they've felt “guilty” about their marijuana habit, compared to only 17 percent of non-millennials. That brings us to the next point:
8. Few people want to admit they use marijuana just for fun
This is one of the survey's most interesting findings: asked why they currently use marijuana, only 16 percent of smokers said it was “just to have fun.” The rest cited a variety of utilitarian reasons: 37 percent said they used marijuana to relax; 19 percent said they do it to relieve pain, 10 percent said it helps them be social.
If there's any group in society who do something “just to have fun,” you'd think it would be marijuana users. The stereotypical image of the “stoner” is the guy blazed out of his mind on his couch, eating Funyuns and giggling at his TV.
But most users don't see themselves this way. For them, marijuana is less about recreation and more of a product that fulfills a specific need in their life: relaxation, or pain relief, or social lubricant.
9. Where people hide their stash — dressers, fake cans or tins, or locked containers
Roughly four in 10 marijuana users hide their stash from others. Among those who hide their pot, the dresser (20 percent) is the most popular place of concealment, followed by fake cans, containers or books (11 percent), in safes or locked containers (11 percent) and the closet (8 percent).
Astonishingly, 3 percent of marijuana users keep their marijuana in their cars. If you're familiar with the practices of highway drug interdiction you know this is a terrible idea. Drug task forces routinely use minor traffic infractions like busted taillights, failure to turn or speeding as a pretext for searching for contraband in a person's car, often with the aid of a drug-sniffing dog.
Marijuana users say hide their stashes to keep it away from the prying eyes of children, law enforcement and parents/grandparents, respectively.
10. More than half of marijuana users are parents
According to Marist, 54 percent of adults who use marijuana are parents. A majority of those parents — 16 million of them — have children under the age of 18.
Childhood exposure has been a big talking point for opponents of marijuana legalization. States like Colorado have seen an uptick in the incidence of small children inadvertently eating marijuana edibles and having to go to the emergency room. In raw number terms, however, these cases are still very rare. Nationwide, poison control centers get calls for pediatric exposure to marijuana and alcohol at identical rates once you control for the total number of users of both substances.
In the Marist survey, 94 percent of marijuana-using parents of underage kids say they've never used it in front of their kids or shared it with them.
11. Most people are open about marijuana use with their family and friends.
Your daily policy cheat sheet from Wonkblog.