It’s official! Marijuana is the most “smoke-able” substance among college students. This is according to the results of the annual “Monitoring the Future” study. The results bring both good news and bad news. But first, let’s review the stats.
Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a series of national surveys of US college students. They found that since 2006, the trend for marijuana use on the nation’s campuses has been steadily growing. They also found that 5.9 percent of college students in 2014 reported daily or near-daily marijuana use. In other words, one in every 17 college student is smoking pot everyday (or nearly everyday). This is the highest rate reported since 1980; that’s for the past 35 years, if you’re counting.
In contrast, 5 percent of college students indicated they smoked cigarettes daily. This is a decrease of nearly three-fourths from the number in 1999 at 19 percent.
Here are what experts believe to be the negative indications of the results.
States that have not legalized marijuana hope to deter young people from getting hooked on the substance. However, it doesn’t seem to be working as planned.
“I think again it’s an indication that … criminalization certainly does not seem to deter young people or impede their ability to obtain the substance,” said Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
When governments make marijuana available to adults but tell teens and young adults they shouldn’t use it, that can lead to some confusion.
“The push for legalization around the country has had an effect on how young people view pot,” notes New York Post contributor Naomi Schaefer Riley.
Riley suggests kids living in places where smoking pot is illegal could be thinking that if it’s legal in other states how bad can it really be for them? They could also be thinking about how it’s only a matter of time before marijuana would be legal in the entire country anyway.
As for kids living in places where weed is legal, “Just as with alcohol and tobacco, the easier it is for grownups to get ahold of it, the easier it is for kids as well,” Riley says.
Thanks to the legalization of marijuana in several states, young people – and in fact the general populace – changed their minds regarding pot and its perceived dangers. Researchers say college students seem to regard pot as carrying fewer risks than smoking cigarette. The risks themselves need more study before researchers can arrive at a conclusive result.
The media may also have had a big influence on this perception. Addiction psychiatrist Ed Gogek notes marijuana use can fluctuate significantly depending on media coverage. “Adolescent use increases when perception of harm goes down and vice-versa,” Gogek said. Interestingly, two-thirds of news stories about medical marijuana were positive, according to The High Road, a book by Samuel Vickovic, a doctoral student in criminal justice at Arizona State, seemingly backing this claim.
Fortunately, the study results also have positive indications.
The decrease in the rate of daily cigarette smoking among college students had many people clapping their hands. According to Armentano, the results were “an indication that young people are aware of the objective fact that tobacco is a far more deleterious substance to health than cannabis”. He credits decades of ad campaigns with this decline.
Armentano believes the data suggests young people can be motivated to change their behavior through proper education, as was the case with tobacco, without criminalizing the substance.
“These results have not been achieved by imposing blanket criminalization upon society, but rather by imposing common sense regulation and science-based public education,” he says regarding the decline in tobacco.