Support for marijuana legalization in the United States has risen steadily over the years. Today, a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug, although the number of people actually smoking weed is far lower. Slightly more than 13% of Americans 12 years old and over report using marijuana in the past year.
Some states report much higher marijuana use than others. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentage of people 12 years old and over consuming marijuana at least once in the past year in every state from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Colorado leads the nation with 21.6% of people reporting use of the drug.
States with fewer marijuana restrictions tend to have higher cannabis use rates. All four states where recreational marijuana use is legal — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — are among the 12 states with the highest use rates. Every state on this list is among the 25 states where medical marijuana is legal. In these states, a physician may recommend marijuana for the treatment of a range of conditions, including cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, eating disorders, chronic pain, and seizures arising from epilepsy and other ailments.
Whether state-level legalization of medical marijuana increases the accessibility and appeal of the drug to young people is still largely an open question. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found there were no significant differences in marijuana use before and after policy changes. The study interviewed 12 million students across multiple years and several states.
> Pct. using marijuana in past year:17.6%
> Total users: 989,000 (10th highest)
> Pct. using illicit drugs other than marijuana in past month: 2.8% (9th lowest)
> Max. fine for possession: $500
Nearly 18% of Massachusetts residents 12 years and older have used marijuana in the past year, a higher share than in all but a handful of other states. A relatively high usage rate is due in part to low perceived risk. Only 20.1% of Massachusetts residents age 12 and older think there are serious health risks associated with the drug, one of the smallest such shares in the country.
Marijuana users in the state are not risking much legally either. Medical use of the drug is permitted for those with certain conditions, and possession of marijuana has been decriminalized in the Bay State. The maximum penalty for recreational users caught with less than an ounce is a $100 fine. Those caught with more than an ounce, however, are subject to larger fines, criminal charges, and jail time.
The evidence for and against marijuana use is mixed. While benefits for certain medical uses are widely acknowledged, a number of studies have suggested heavy marijuana use during adolescence can have long term negative effects, including lower cognitive functioning, difficulty learning, and memory impairment. However, according to the American Psychological Association, it is still unclear whether there is a safe level of use or whether the brain changes associated with marijuana use are permanent.
Yet, 27.8% of Americans perceive smoking marijuana once a month to be a great risk. The share of survey respondents who believe the monthly use of the drug is harmful tends to be lower in the 12 states with the highest user rates.
Mirroring the varied perspectives on marijuana use, the states where pot is legal have introduced legislation for very different reasons. In Colorado, the campaign that eventually led to legalization argued for marijuana as a safe alternative to alcohol. By contrast, in Washington, advocates argued marijuana should be legalized because it is not safe and therefore should be regulated. In Washington, advocates argued further that processing the numerous marijuana cases was an unnecessary burden on the justice system.
High marijuana use rates cluster geographically. Five of the 12 states are in New England, and three are on the West coast.
To identify the 12 states smoking the most marijuana, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentage of people 12 years and over who reported smoking marijuana in the past year based on surveys conducted between 2013 and 2014 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also known as SAMHSA. A range of other drug use data, including total drug users, marijuana initiates over the past two years, use in the past month, and perceptions of risk among each state’s 12 years and older population, also came from SAMHSA. Maximum fines for possession were obtained from marijuana reform advocate NORML.