A new Gallup poll shows that the number of Americans who admit to smoking marijuana has doubled in the last three years, from 7 to 13 percent.
This number is shocking. Only 13 percent of Americans smoke marijuana? Is it really that low?
Or are only 13 percent willing to admit using it?
“Gallup notes that ‘states’ willingness to legalize marijuana could be a reason for the uptick in the percentage of Americans who say they smoke marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal in their particular state,” Reason’s Jacob Sullum observes. “As legal and social tolerance of marijuana increases, people may be more likely to use it, but they also may be more likely to admit using it.”
There’s always been a stigma attached to illegal drug use, and rightfully so concerning most drugs. So many of them continue to ruin so many lives.
But marijuana consumption has been relatively mainstream to large swaths of American society for decades. As marijuana prohibition continues to be challenged by various states and the larger culture, why shouldn’t marijuana users be as open about consuming that drug as alcohol users are about having a beer or cocktail? Particularly when majorities not only favor legalization, but consider alcohol more harmful than pot.
I’m fairly certain more than 13 percent of my friends and acquaintances use marijuana. And I’m 42—not exactly a college kid. According to Gallup, 33 million Americans currently smoke pot.
I don’t like marijuana. But I do drink. In fact, I probably drink more than I should. That’s probably not information I should share with everyone in a column. Yet, I’m relatively comfortable doing so because alcohol isn’t taboo, or as taboo.
In 2016, marijuana really shouldn’t be either. President Barack Obama has smoked pot. So have Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. So have Supreme Court Justices. Corporate CEOs get high. Oprah has smoked. Martha Stewart can roll a joint. 2019 will be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke” came out almost 30 years ago.
The rapid change in attitudes toward marijuana legalization in the past few years should, and likely inevitably will, coincide with an overall normalization of pot use.
“Much of this shift in attitudes could be due to lived experience,” The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham notes. “In the late 1960s, fewer than 5 percent of adults told Gallup they had ever smoked marijuana. Today that number is up to 43 percent.”
“Regardless of whether they use it currently, nearly half of American adults now have first-hand experience using marijuana,” Ingraham says.
One’s embrace or revulsion toward a drug like marijuana will undoubtedly vary significantly depending on the cultural context. Different religious or age groups, for example, might view pot as either commonplace or beyond the pale depending on what they’re accustomed to.
But the same has always been true of alcohol. Growing up in the evangelical South, I came from a family where my parents drank but sometimes found themselves in social situations where alcohol wasn’t acceptable. This is still true today. The general rule is that you respect others’ beliefs as much as possible.
This works both ways. I recall a tee-totaling relative of mine looking slightly uncomfortable at my sister’s wedding years ago where many libations were had. Still, he said nothing. Again, the general rule is that you respect others’ beliefs as much as possible.
It’s time to handle marijuana use similarly. It’s time to take the extra social step of saying there’s nothing wrong with using marijuana, or at least it’s no more wrong than drinking alcohol.
In my social circles, I don’t know many people my age and even fewer younger than me who would flinch at someone lighting a marijuana joint or pipe. Someone asking me if I would like to partake in smoking marijuana is no more controversial in my mind than someone offering me a beer. I’m asked frequently enough and always decline.
Again, such openness about marijuana might not be a reality for millions of Americans, and that’s okay too. This isn’t about shoving unwanted activities in anyone’s face.
But marijuana use is now relatively normal to millions of other Americans, and the notion that pot smokers in 2016 should be ashamed in ways drinkers aren’t is outdated, to say the least.