Pot Smoking In College on the Rise (But High School Use Declined)


Daily marijuana use among U.S. college students highest since 1980” reads the headline from the University of Michigan heralding the release of the latest data from the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). “Daily marijuana use among the nation’s college students is on the rise,” they tell us, “surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.”

They state that as if it was a bad thing.

Whenever I read scary proclamations about data, I like to go straight to the source and see for myself. In this case, it is Volume II of their 2014 monograph that deals with college students and other adults. Volume I covers 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

MTF 2015 Daily Cigs vs MJ

Let’s start with the daily marijuana use vs. daily cigarette use. Yes, daily marijuana use among college students in their first four years past high school (MTF’s cohort) is at 5.9%, the largest rate since 1980’s rate of 7.2%. But the reason why more undergrads are toking pot than smoking cigarettes is because the daily smoking rate has declined 351% since 1980, from 18.3% then to just 5.2% today.

Since 2000, the daily rate of marijuana use among the undergrads has increased 28.3%. But also since 2000, the daily rate of cigarette use has declined 70.8%. Similarly, daily cigarette smoking among 12th, 10th, and 8th graders has declined 67.5%, 77.1%, and 81.1%, respectively. Meanwhile, daily marijuana use among those grades has declined 3.3%, 10.5%, and 23.1%, respectively.

In other words, in the 21st Century, as prohibitionists warn us about the terrible message we’re sending to kids through legalization of marijuana for medical or personal use, daily marijuana use has declined and daily cigarette use has plummeted. But among the undergraduate college kids within four years of high school graduation (that is, voting-age adults) daily marijuana use has increased while daily cigarette use has plummeted.

The kids are getting the message all right, and that message is “there’s a time and place for marijuana smoking, and that place is college!” Basically, the same message since their parents’ generation smoked pot and the generation before that.

This trend holds true for monthly (or occasional) use of marijuana and cigarettes. Since 2000, 12th, 10th, and 8th grade monthly marijuana use is down 1.9%, 15.7%, and 28.6%, respectively. Undergrad monthly marijuana use is up 4%. But monthly cigarette smoking has plummeted across the board, down 56.7%, 69.9%, and 72.6% among 12th, 10th, & 8th graders, respectively, and down 54.3% among college students.

You may recall that we didn’t ticket, fine, arrest, piss test, or rehab any adults who smoke cigarettes in an effort to reduce their cigarette smoking during that time. Also recall that four states legalized personal marijuana use and 18 states adopted medical marijuana laws in that time. More voting-age adults may be using marijuana, but fewer minor teenagers are using marijuana.

Alcohol use among young people has shown a similar trend. Daily drinking among 12th, 10th, & 8th grades has fallen 34.5%, 55.6%, and 62.5%, respectively. Monthly drinking is down by 25.2%, 42.7%, and 59.8%, respectively. And the rate of kids who have ever tried alcohol is down 17.8%, 31%, and 48.2%, respectively. Even among the college kids, lifetime drinking rates are at 79.4%, down 8.3% since 2000, and monthly drinking is at 63.1%, down 6.4%, and those are the lowest rates ever measured.

The use of the most dangerous legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco – is plummeting among young adults and minor teenagers. Marijuana use remains steady or lower among minor teenagers, but up among young adults.

"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 CannabisRadio.com, 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 NORML.in 2015.