Who Are You, and How Much Do You Smoke?

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More Americans are smoking marijuana on a daily basis, according to a new study, many of them poor and under-educated.

Researchers Steven Davenport and Jonathan Caulkins wrote the study, which examined federal drug questionnaires between 2002 and 2013. They concluded that the typical daily cannabis user is much more like a typical cigarette smoker than a typical alcohol consumer. They also found that a large proportion of weed is smoked by a very small number of users.

“In the early 1990s only one in nine past-month users reported using daily or near-daily,” Caulkins and Davenport wrote. “Now it is fully one in three. Daily or near-daily users now account for over two-thirds of self-reported days of use (68%).”

These findings suggest pot smokers are using the drug in a manner more like cigarette smokers, consuming large amounts as a regular habit each day. Of course, the consequences of this trend are likely far less severe than the consequences of using tobacco, but researchers said the demographics of the trend are concerning.

“What’s going on here is that over the last 20 years marijuana went from being used like alcohol to being used more like tobacco, in the sense of lots of people using it every day,” Caulkins told the Chicago Tribune.

Nineteen percent of adults who toke each day have earned less than a high school education, the study found, compared to 13 percent of adults overall. High school dropouts use tobacco at a similar rate (20 percent), but only 8 percent drink alcohol regularly.

Correlation between marijuana consumption and income levels

The study also found a link between income levels and daily marijuana consumption: Americans of all ages who earn less than $20,000 annually make up nearly 30 percent of cannabis smokers, 27 percent of cigarette smokers, and 13 percent of drinkers. This income group accounts for just 19 percent of the total population.

Marijuana use

The high rate of cannabis use among low-income Americans is especially concerning, since it means these poorer people are spending a larger share of their income on pot each day. As with cigarette smokers, this can amount to enough money over a lifetime to make the difference between poverty and the working class.

Indeed, 15 percent of tokers spend at least a quarter of their yearly income on marijuana, whether for recreation or medicine. And that raises another problem: Many patients really do need to use weed every day, and costs can be prohibitive for them.

Arrest rates are way down

But there was also distinctly good news in the study. Caulkins and Davenport found that while Americans are buying more cannabis, they are getting arrested for it less often. This trend has picked up over the last decade, as a growing number of states move to legalize marijuana for any adult use.

In 2002, one person was arrested on a cannabis charge for ever 550 purchases, whether legal or black market. Eleven years later, the ratio had dropped to one person for every 1,090 purchases.

“The criminal risk per marijuana transaction has fallen by half,” the authors wrote.

Severe racial disparities persist in arrest rates, even years after legalization passed in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. But even then, blacks and other racial minority groups are busted far less often on minor possession charges (as are white users).

Davenport and Caulkins explained that their research offers no firm conclusion on the wisdom of legalizing recreational cannabis. But they said the findings suggest lawmakers should put adequate resources into fighting drug abuse. While most pot smokers use the drug lightly and have few problems with it, heavier smokers are more likely to get stuck in a cycle of addiction and poverty, the authors said.

In other words, problem users may find it easier and cheaper to buy marijuana, but states also have a chance to give these people better access to effective treatment options.

“There is a sharp contrast between what policy is best for the typical user versus what is best for the people who consume most of the marijuana,” Caulkins said.

What do you think: Should we be worried about potheads who smoke marijuana every day? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.

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