Legal Weed: Who Smokes?

Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, marijuana legalization consultant for Washington state, and co-author of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know, kicks off a May series on marijuana with a look at who smokes and why. Plus: your calls on whether you're seeing a public opinion shift.

“60 percent of all the use days of cannabis in the US are by people who don’t have a high school diploma”

“It turns out that very heavy smoking is concentrated at the lower end of the educational distribution, which of course is also the lower end of the socio-economic distribution. So there’s a number of people that smoke a lot, they account for most of the days of use," Kleiman said.

25% of the total use of cannibis is by people under 21 – and it would remain illegal for them

 “Not all the people without high school diplomas are dropouts. Some of them are below graduation age. That number includes high school students who are a substantial fraction of the market for cannabis. When we talk about legalization, people tend to forget that about a quarter of the total use of cannabis is people who are under 21 – for whom it won’t be legal even after legalization… It means we’re only legalizing about three-quarters of the market.” 

Baby boomers who are rediscovering pot may be in for a surprise

 “I think there’s a little bit of evidence that as the boomers retire, they may go back to old practices. And one possible consequence of state-level legalization is that respectable members of their community who don’t want to be seen doing something illegal will go back to cannabis use once they can buy it in a store. And that’s a concern for the regulators because the cannabis that people were smoking in 1970 is not the stuff that’s on the market today… So there’s a question of how you appropriately inform returning consumers who may think that they’re sophisticated marijuana users – but aren’t sophisticated about today’s pot.”  

Stats on pot smokers are hard to nail down

“There are two different surveys of [marijuana use among] adolescents… And it turns out that if you ask kids in school whether they smoke pot, a lot more of them say yes than if you ask them at home. So, all of these numbers should be taken with a certain amount of qualification. But there’s no doubt that the age of first use of cannabis has dropped radically since I was a teenager… And that’s really not good.”