Seven surprising signs of marijuana's normalization in America

Reefer madness appears to be fading into oblivion—at least when it comes to popular attitudes. The law lags behind.

Published May 7, 2017 9:59AM (EDT)

Can you smoke pot and work undercover, some wonder? (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Can you smoke pot and work undercover, some wonder? (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.



A new survey from Yahoo News and Marist College examines Americans' relationship with marijuana, and it shows some surprising signals about how far acceptance of the herb has come. Pot is no longer a dirty little secret, to be consumed furtively and hidden from friends and family, and it's no longer limited to the fringes.

Marijuana is going mainstream and is now part of everyday life for millions of Americans. Here are seven signs of weed's newfound normalization:

1. More American adults have tried marijuana than have not. The survey found that 133 million adults have tried pot, while 115 million have not.

2. Some 55 million adults smoked pot in the last year. That's nearly a quarter (23.1%) of the country's adult population. Some 20 million were "current users," meaning they'd toked up once or twice in the past year, while 35 million were "regular users," meaning they used at least once or twice a month.

3. Marijuana use is now socially acceptable. A solid majority of Americans—56%—now say marijuana use is "socially acceptable," while only 42% say it isn't. Another 2% are too befuddled to say one way or the other. Unsurprisingly, people who have actually smoked pot are much more likely (74%) to say it's socially acceptable than those who haven't (37%).

4. Pot smokers don't bother to hide it very much anymore. A whopping 95% reported telling their significant other about their use and that same figure held for close friends. Nearly three out of four (72%) have told their parents they smoke pot, and three out of five (60%) have told their children. And it can be a family affair: Some 21% have either toked with or in front of their parents, and among older users, 35% have smoked with or in front of their adult kids.

5. If people don't use marijuana, it's usually not because it's illegal. Among those who do not partake, only slightly more than one out of four (27%) said it was because marijuana is illegal. Another 26% said they just didn't like it, while 16% said it was because it is not healthy, 9% said for work or school reasons, 6% said they just had no interest in it, 5% cited family reasons, and 10% mentioned other reasons.

6. Very few marijuana users say they use it just because it's fun. Pot people seem to need to justify their indulgence. Some 37% said they used to relax, 19% used it pain relief, 10% said to be social, 6% said to be creative, 3% each said to improve sex or sleep, and 5% gave other justifications. Fewer than one out of six (16%) said they used pot just because it's fun.

7. Americans view marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol, tobacco, or opiates. Strong majorities agreed that pot is less harmful than alcohol (70%), tobacco (76%), or opiates (67%). But a slim majority (51%) said marijuana is health risk, while 44% disagreed.

By Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

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