Making marijuana legal will encourage use, especially by young people. That is the go-to line for any drug prohibitionist who has been bludgeoned by the onslaught of marijuana legalization and medical marijuana exceptions now passed in 20 American states.
Unfortunately for them, the latest polling data from Gallup seems to show that further liberalization of American marijuana policy is not leading more young people down the supposedly slippery slope from marijuana initiation to full-blown heroin addiction. In fact, fewer young people are trying marijuana than when I began college in the mid-1980s.
In 1985, a full one-third (33 percent) of Americans had tried marijuana. In 1996, California became the first medical marijuana state and since then, 19 more have created exceptions to criminal prosecution for medical uses of cannabis. In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first political jurisdictions in the world to fully legalize the possession of marijuana. Today, just 38 percent of Americans have tried marijuana.
The crosstabs of the poll are even more devastating for the idea that legalization entices young people. When I graduated high school in 1985, 56 percent of my generation aged 18-29 had tried marijuana. The figure now for that age group is just 36 percent.
The groups that have increased their experimentation with marijuana are over age 30. While 41 percent of the middle-aged (30-49) in 1985 had tried pot, the figure is now nearly half (49 percent). The increase is more pronounced for ages 50 to 64, rising from a mere 9 percent in 1985 to 44 percent today — almost five times greater use! This means more people aged 30 to 64 are experimenting with marijuana than people in their college years. Among seniors age 65 and over, experimentation has nearly tripled, from 6 percent to 17 percent.
Current use of marijuana is still an area where young adults come out on top. Fourteen percent, or over one-third of the 18-29-year-olds who tried marijuana, are using it currently. Only one-out-of-seven of the 49 percent of 30-49-year-olds who tried marijuana are using it now (7 percent). Just 5 percent of people aged 50-64 are currently toking, which is about one-in-nine of those who tried it. Only one percent of seniors aged 65 and older are using pot now.
So, it seems that even though fewer young people are trying marijuana, more of them are currently using it. However, current use steadily declines as the marijuana smoker ages… so much for the super-potent, highly-addictive modern marijuana.