Sit back, light up, and join the crowd.

With the shackles beginning to loosen on marijuana users across the country, new research shows there are more of us than ever before. And with new states likely to join the ranks of the legalized, those numbers are likely to keep edging up.

Changes In Drug and Alcohol Use

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.3 percent of Americans age 12 or older smoked pot on a regular basis in 2012, compared with 7.3 percent in 2011. The rate was just 5.8 percent in 2007.

marijuana-leafPot use did fall in one key category, however: teenagers. The percentage of children ages 12 to 17 who regularly smoke pot dropped from 7.9 in 2011 to 7.2 in 2012.

The report, the most comprehensive of its kind, was prepared by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It surveyed 70,000 people across the United States about their use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.

Overall, about 9 percent of the population uses “illicit” drugs, a category that includes cannabis, heroin, cocaine, abused prescription medications, and other substances that are illegal at some level. Most of those users are marijuana smokers.

Even as the rate of weed use has climbed steadily, the use of other, more dangerous drugs has dropped slightly. The percentage of young adults who abuse prescription drugs was 5.3 – similar to 2010 and 2011 but down markedly from 2009.

Unhealthy drinking behaviors, including binge drinking, were down among teenagers. Drunk driving among all Americans remained lower than in previous years. Tobacco use among teens also fell dramatically over the past 10 years, from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 8.6 percent in 2012. And the number of teens with substance abuse problems fell from 9 percent in 2002 to 6 percent ten years later.

Indeed, the only substances that saw notable upticks were pot and heroin, which makes up a much smaller proportion of overall drug use.

Legalization Across The Country

Americans’ growing acceptance of and changing attitudes toward pot are reflected in the recent dramatic turnarounds in the drug war. Twenty states have legalized medical weed since 1996, and two of them have gone further, completely legalizing pot for recreational purposes.S

But pot remains illegal at the federal level, and after years of combat between federal prosecutors, marijuana providers, the municipalities that want them gone, and the states that want to enforce medical cannabis laws, the Obama administration reached a critical pivot.

In late August, the Justice Department announced it won’t try to stop Washington and Colorado from moving forward with legal pot. Justice also said it won’t prosecute marijuana shops simply because they’re big or profitable.

Marijuana Is Growing

Regardless of what happens next – whether it be other states voting to legalize or a movement building for federal reform – the administration’s new stance marks a fundamental turning point for American society.

With more of us using pot and more of us accepting it as a legal substance like alcohol or tobacco, the little green weed has taken root in American culture.


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