More people use cannabis than tobacco

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“It’s the economy, stupid,” Democratic operative James Carville once famously noted. Usually, that assertion holds when it comes to elections. But as we have seen from the changing political tides since Roe v. Wade was overturned, sometimes the economy takes a back seat to social issues.

Abortion, though, won’t be the only major social issue on voters’ minds this year. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in a number of states, including Arkansas, Maryland and Missouri.

The chance for voters to decide whether weed should be legal comes at a time when newly released polling suggests cannabis is more popular than ever.

The high-water mark for marijuana, and the changing tides, is where we begin our weekly roundup of the political week that was.

Getting high reaches an all-time high

Every so often in polling, you get to witness a big changing-of-the-guard moment. That happened a few weeks ago, when Gallup released data on marijuana and tobacco usage in the United States. Two long-term trends finally collided.

For the first time in Gallup polling, more Americans (16%) said they smoke marijuana than had smoked a tobacco cigarette (11%) in the past week.

Marijuana, hallucinogen use among young adults jump to record-high rates in 2021

This probably doesn’t come as a major shock to those who walk the streets in my New York City neighborhood. There are stores selling cannabis paraphernalia opening up left and right, and the streets smell like what I imagine scared parents believe a rock concert smells like.

At about the time humans first landed on the moon (1969), however, the idea that marijuana would one day be more popular than cigarettes was inconceivable. A Gallup poll from that year found that just 4% of Americans admitted they had even tried marijuana, let alone smoked it regularly. Today, 48% of Americans say they have at least tried it.

That same year (1969), 40% of Americans said they had smoked cigarettes in the same week. This was the lowest percentage recorded by Gallup between 1944 and 1972 of those who said they had smoked a cigarette in the past week.

Marjiuana and tobacco usage trends have been going in opposite directions for a few decades now. By 1985, nearly as many Americans said they had tried marijuana (33%) as had smoked a cigarette in the past week (35%).

Cigarette smoking has been declining ever since. By 2013, just 19% of Americans were smoking cigarettes at least once a week. Meanwhile, 38% of Americans told Gallup they had tried marijuana that year. This was the same year that 7% said they currently smoked marijuana.

The trend toward more marijuana smokers is, perhaps not surprisingly, driven by young people. The National Institutes of Health reported last week that more young adults used marijuana in 2021 than in any year prior.

Nearly a third (30%) of adult respondents under the age of 35 admitted to Gallup this year that they smoke marijuana. That’s significantly higher than those aged 35-54 (16%) or 55+ (7%).

Smoking tobacco, on the other hand, isn’t seen as cool. Just 8% of adults under 35 are smoking cigarettes at least once a week. Slightly more adults aged 35-54 (10%) or 55+ (14%) said they had.

The higher rates of marijuana smoking come with major political implications. As I have noted in the past, a record high percentage of Americans (over two-thirds, per Gallup) say they favor legalization of recreational marijuana. Ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana have passed in blue states (e.g., New Jersey), purple states (e.g., Arizona) and red states (e.g., Montana) in recent years.

This year, we shouldn’t be amazed if it passes in other blue states such as Maryland and even red states such as South Dakota. Again, this would be shocking if you had said so about 50 years ago. Only 12% were in favor marijuana legalization in 1969. As recently as a decade ago, the country was split down the middle on marijuana legalization in Gallup polling.

The times have certainly changed.

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