National Families in Action Misleads on Marijuana Use Trends


The prohibitionists continue to dig through the latest data in the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, looking for the evidence on marijuana use trends that show ending the punishment of adults who use marijuana will turn the youth of our nation into pot zombies. (In my other articles, see how the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, Oregon’s Project SAM affiliate, and National Project SAM have already spun and outright misrepresented the data.)

Today the spin comes from the National Families In Action, where they’ve published a chart showing the increases from 2013 to 2014 in marijuana usage among teens (12-17), college age (18-25), and adults (26+), as well as the entire population aged 12 and older.

NFIA Chart

It’s not that the data are inaccurate. Indeed, past-month marijuana use did rise 12 percent from 2013 to 2014. In 2013, 7.5 percent had used marijuana, in 2014, 8.4 percent had used marijuana. Even the age-grouped data are accurately rounded – teen use increased 4.2 percent, college use increased 2.6 percent, and adult use increased 17.9 percent.

Where the misleading comes in is claiming that this change is “the first year of legalization in Washington and Colorado”. 2014 was the first year of legalized marijuana markets in Washington and Colorado. Marijuana possession and, in Colorado, cultivation, was legal throughout 2013. If we look at the changes for youth, college, and adult monthly marijuana use since 2012 (the full year before legal adult possession), the changes are increases of 2.8 percent, 4.8 percent, and 24.5 percent, respectively.

In other words, teen use went up by a statistically insignificant amount, college use increased, and adult use went way up.

Looking further back, prohibitionists back in 2011 told us that our efforts to legalize marijuana in 2012 would surely send the wrong message to the kids and greatly increase marijuana use. But when you check the rates of use since 2011, college use has increased 3.2 percent while adult use has skyrocketed by 37.5 percent. Teen use, however, is down 6.3 percent.

NSDUH 2014 Monthly MJ Four-Year Change

Looking back even further, the current release of the NSDUH lists monthly use data dating back to 2002. Back then, there were just eight medical marijuana states and legalization was about to lose elections in Nevada (2002), Alaska (2004), Nevada (2006), Colorado (2006), and California (2010). Fewer than one-third of the American public supported marijuana legalization. Prohibitionists then claimed throughout the decade that the spread of medical marijuana and the filing of legalization initiatives were sending the wrong message to the youth and would certainly lead to more teen use.


But as it has turned out, the twelve-year increase of over a third (35.5 percent) among those 12 and older who use marijuana once month or more is driven primarily by the increase of over one-eighth (13.3 percent) among those aged 18-25 and secondarily by the increase of almost two-thirds (65.0 percent) among adults 26 and older.

The teens? Their monthly use has decreased by almost a tenth (9.8 percent), from 8.2 percent who used monthly in 2002 to 7.4 percent who used monthly in 2014.

So, over the past dozen years, if there is any message the kids have received about marijuana, it is that they should wait until they are adults to use it.

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.