Marijuana Use Across the U.S. – How Has it Changed?

As states across the U.S. begin to legalize marijuana, its use has become more mainstream. According to a 2017 Marist College survey, more than half of adults in America have used marijuana at least once, and 56 percent of Americans say that using marijuana is “socially acceptable.” Combine these social trends with the fact that marijuana use is now fully legal in 11 states and partially legal in another 28 states, and it is easy to see how marijuana has become the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.

As public opinion surrounding marijuana is at an all-time high and legalization trends continue, one would assume that marijuana use across the U.S. has substantially increased over the last few years. We wanted to know whether or not this was true, so we decided to dive into the numbers, state by state, of marijuana usage rates.

Using data from the respective years’ National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we compiled the percentage of the population over 18 years old who have used marijuana in the last year. Additionally, we calculated the percent change in each state’s marijuana usage rate from 2014-2017. Read on to discover the interesting trends we found.

the rate of marijuana use in each state

First, we looked at the rate of marijuana use among each state’s adult population. All 50 U.S. states have seen an overall percentage increase in marijuana use from 2014 – 2017, with the largest percent changes occurring in Oregon (13.5%), Washington D.C. (11.7%), and Alaska (9.8%). 

One of the biggest spikes in usage from year to year occured in Washington D.C., which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014, and then saw a spike in marijuana usage of 8.63% from 2014 to 2015. A similar trend unfolded in Oregon, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014 and then saw a usage increase of 8.68% from 2014 to 2015. These findings would seem to suggest that legalization of recreational marijuana usage leads to spikes in overall use. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we observed the lowest overall percent change in marijuana usage rates from 2014 – 2017 in Georgia (1.9%), Alabama (2.6%), and Arizona (2.9%). While medicinal marijuana is legal to some extent in these states, marijuana usage remains criminalized, which could account for the low usage rates, or simply low reporting due to fear of legal repercussions.

a graph showing the growing rate of marijuana use state by state

We observed some interesting regional trends when it comes to marijuana usage in the adult population. In the Northeast and most of the Midwest, marijuana usage comes in at about 12.00 – 14.99% of the population. In the Southeast, as well as Texas, marijuana usage is slightly smaller at 9.00 – 11.99%. 

We found it interesting that in the Pacific Northwest, marijuana usage fluctuates quite significantly, from 27.00 – 30.00% in Oregon to 21.00 – 23.99 % in Washington to only 12.00 – 14.99% in Idaho. Idaho is one of the only states in the western part of the United States to still fully criminalize marijuana. Of all the states where marijuana is fully legalized, usage was lowest in Michigan, at 16.9%.

An important question that comes along with the trend of marijuana legalization is whether this legislation increases overall marijuana usage, which brings us to our next insight from the study.

a graph showing the the rate of weed use in growth percentages

 2014- 2017 was an eventful time for marijuana-based legislation, and as it turns out, marijuana use reflects these changes in legislation. In those three years, states like New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia legalized medical cannabis. Following that legislation, those states saw a percent change in marijuana use close to the total U.S. percent change in cannabis use of 4.9% – New York’s marijuana usage increased by 4.2%, Minnesota by 4.7%, Pennsylvania by 4.2%, Ohio by 5.1%, and West Virginia by 5.2%.

On the other hand, as we saw with Oregon and the District of Columbia, legalizing recreational marijuana use had a staggering impact on marijuana usage, both of those states experiencing a more than 8% increase in a single year. We believe it is important to keep an eye on these trends as marijuana use changes in tandem with social and political changes, especially when it comes to monitoring healthy use by the adults in our lives.  

At our center, we provide high-quality treatment for marijuana abuse and mental health disorders. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know who has a substance use disorder, contact our center to learn more about how we can help.


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