A new poll shows that for the first time in America’s history, more people smoke marijuana or eat cannabis-infused edibles than smoke tobacco products. As reported by CNN, the Gallup poll found that roughly 16 percent of Americans said they smoked marijuana in the past week, compared with 11 percent of Americans who said they smoked tobacco.
Gallup’s research marks a significant change in marijuana usage in just the past decade. The CNN report says that in 2013, about 7 percent of Americans reported they currently smoked marijuana. To see that figure more than double within less than 10 years is a significant indicator of the growing popularity of marijuana usage throughout the country.
What makes marijuana’s growing popularity especially remarkable is that the drug remains illegal at the federal level. While a growing number of states have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational use, there has been little progress in ending the federal ban on smoking marijuana. However, there is a chance the federal ban could be lifted in the near future, as CNN reports that about two-thirds of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
It is likely marijuana will continue to become more popular as more states consider legalizing it for recreational use. A report from The Hill indicates that six states – North and South Dakota, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, and Oklahoma – could vote to approve recreational marijuana use in the November 2022 elections. The Hill report notes that if all six measures pass, about half the country will have voted to allow recreational marijuana use at the state level.
Marijuana Seen as Safer than Alcohol and Tobacco
One reason the number of marijuana smokers may be growing so quickly is that it is perceived as a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco. Gallup research indicates that about half of Americans believe marijuana has a positive effect on society at large. Similarly, about 53 percent of Americans believe marijuana has a positive effect on those who use it, compared with about 45 percent who say it has a negative impact on users.
While the country is roughly split on whether marijuana has positive effects, the population’s views of alcohol and tobacco are much more negative. Polling data from Gallup show that 83 percent of Americans believe tobacco is “very harmful” to those who use it and an additional 14 percent of Americans believe it is “somewhat harmful.” Put another way, just 3 percent of Americans do not believe tobacco is very or somewhat harmful to its users.
Research shows Americans also believe alcohol has a strong negative effect on drinkers and society in general. According to Gallup, about 70 percent of Americans say alcohol has a negative impact on those who consume it. What’s more, 75 percent of Americans say alcohol has a negative effect on society at large.
Despite the widespread negative perception of alcohol, it continues to be more popular than both marijuana and tobacco. Gallup notes that about 45 percent of Americans report having an alcoholic beverage in the past week, and about 23 percent of Americans say they drink occasionally.
As Marijuana Use Increases, Tobacco Use Continues to Decline
While alcohol remains extremely popular in the United States and more people are smoking marijuana, the percentage of people who smoke tobacco continues to decline. The latest data from Gallup show that just 11 percent of Americans report smoking tobacco regularly. That figure represents an astonishing drop from the mid-1950s. At that time, cigarettes were at the height of their popularity, and about 45 percent of Americans smoked.
Gallup research also shows that even smokers are turning their backs on tobacco. About 30 percent of nonsmokers said they used to use tobacco, according to Gallup reports.
Could Federal Marijuana Regulations Change?
There is some evidence suggesting the federal government could loosen its restrictions on marijuana use. In October 2022, President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted on federal marijuana possession charges. Early research shows Biden’s actions are largely popular among Americans, with 83 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans saying they support the pardons. However, those pardons do not apply to those convicted of selling or distributing marijuana.
While Biden’s pardons are a welcome change from the federal government’s anti-marijuana policy, a more significant move would be to change marijuana’s designation under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the harshest classification under the CSA. Specifically, Schedule I drugs are said to have a “high potential for abuse” and have “no currently accepted medical use” in the U.S.
Changing marijuana’s classification under the CSA is difficult, but a new report lays out some potential options for lawmakers to consider in light of Biden’s actions. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) report notes that “There are a number of issues related to the Schedule I status of marijuana and the gap between federal and state marijuana policies.”
The CRS report says there are several ways for the government to end marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug. First, the Biden Administration has the authority under the CSA to change marijuana’s classification unilaterally. However, this option could provoke legal challenges, as the CSA requires federal officials to consider factors like a substance’s risk of abuse and medical utility before making such a change. Despite these potential problems, the Biden Administration has already ordered the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug.
The second and more promising option is for Congress to amend the CSA. There are several ways Congress could do this, including:
- Amending the law to move marijuana to a less restrictive schedule.
- Creating a new, less restrictive category under the CSA for marijuana.
- Removing marijuana from the CSA entirely.
It is difficult to say whether these options are feasible or plausible in the current political environment. That said, the fact that the CRS even made a report outlining potential options for changes in federal marijuana rules is a promising sign.
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