Adult Pot Use Up, But Abuse is Down, Feds Say

As legal access to cannabis goes up, abuse of the drug is on the decline. New data from the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the legalization movement’s long running message about responsible use seems to be getting through. The same report shows that teen use has also declined during that time period.


Cannabis Consumers Campaign founder Mikki Norris was not surprised to hear the new data. “Marijuana smokers come from all walks of life. We have jobs, we pay taxes, we recycle — we do not deserve to be labeled and treated as criminals,” said Norris, who supports California’s Proposition 64 adult use legalization initiative. “In fact, cannabis consumers are some of the nicest and most responsible people I know.”

The CDC’s reported 12.5 percent decline in cannabis abuse also upends dire warnings that availability would lead to an increase of abuse, which is a fear the anti-marijuana forces have been waving around in an effort to undermine growing support for legalized marijuana for adults.

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The number of Americans aged 12 and over meeting diagnostic criteria for marijuana abuse or dependency was calculated at 1.8 percent in 2002, when relatively few states has active medical marijuana programs and no states had yet legalized nonmedical adult use. By 2014, with more than 20 medical marijuana programs operational and four states having legalized all adult use, that figure dropped to 1.6 percent, according to the September 2016 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC.

The new national status report come from evaluating nearly 900,000 responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a massive annual federal survey of American substance use. Dependence and abuse were measured by common criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) used by the American Psychiatric Association.

The report is good news to voter initiative campaigns in five states to legalize adult marijuana use, but supporters of the initiatives do not expect their opponents to face the facts.

In the CDC survey, people are considered dependent on marijuana if they reported “health and emotional problems associated with [marijuana] use, unsuccessful attempts to reduce use, tolerance, withdrawal, reducing other activities to use [marijuana], spending a lot of time engaging in activities related to [marijuana] use, or using [marijuana] in greater quantities or for a longer time than intended.”

Likewise, anyone who reported “problems at work, home, and school; problems with family or friends; physical danger; and trouble with the law because of [marijuana] use” were labeled as abusers of marijuana.

The new report coincides with other data showing that the use of addictive drugs declines when adult use of marijuana is legally regulated rather than banned.

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