Pot Matters: Marijuana by the Numbers


weighing bud, marijuana scale

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The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) publishes a data supplement to their annual anti-drug strategy. This compendium provides the metrics with which to measure their progress (or lack thereof) in countering the drug threat. (Countering the threat of illegal drugs is the new version of fighting the War on Drugs.)

In 1979, there were 23.8 million current marijuana users, but this dropped to 9.6 million in 1993. Incidentally, in the 1990s marijuana arrests were doubled. The number of marijuana users increased to 10.7 million in 2000, and further to 14.6 million in 2005, 17.4 million in 2010 and had reached 19.8 million in 2013, the last year of data reported in the 2015 supplement.

Given this upward trend in marijuana use since the mid-1990s, it is interesting to note that the percentage of people in the workforce testing positive for marijuana use has been in a general decline, from 3.4 percent in 1997 to 1.9 percent in 2011. However, in recent years, this has increased to 2.0 percent in 2012 and 2.4 percent in 2014.

The number of new marijuana users each year has increased about 10 percent from 2.2 million new users in 2002 to 2.4 million initiates in 2013. (By comparison, the number of new alcohol consumers increased from 3.9 million to 4.6 million in the same period.) The average age of first use of marijuana also increased—from 17 to 18 during this time.

Many people who support prohibition argue that keeping marijuana illegal encourages youths to perceive it as harmful, and they lament that legalization and other reforms decrease the number of 12- to 17-year-old youths who view marijuana use this way. The percentage of youths reporting that using marijuana once a month is harmful has dropped from 32.4 percent in 2002 to 24.2 percent in 2013. With respect to smoking marijuana once or twice a week, the harmfulness metric dropped from 51.5 percent in 2002 to 39.5 percent in 2013.

Nonetheless, marijuana use has begun to drop among 12th graders, for example, in recent years, from 22.9 percent in 2012 to 21.2 percent in 2014.

One of the most interesting metrics reported by ONDCP is the cost to society of drug abuse—not just marijuana but all illegal drugs. They report that the overall cost of drug abuse has increased from $137 billion in 1992 to $180 billion in 2002, and up to $193 billion in 2007 (the last year for which this estimate is available).

But the composition of this estimate indicates that just over half of these costs are due to prohibition.

The 2007 estimate include $56 billion in criminal justice system costs and $48 billion in incarceration costs (as an indication of lost productivity, the economic loss of someone being incarcerated rather than working).

Over 46 million people died from drug-induced causes in 2013, more than twice the 26 million in 2002. However, looking at the itemization, this involves 22.7 million deaths from prescription drugs (including 16.2 million from opioid analgesics), 8.2 million from heroin and 4.9 million from cocaine. Marijuana does not produce deaths by overdose or poisoning and is not listed in these data tables.

The number of emergency room visits in which marijuana was reported increased significantly from 281,619 in 2004 to 455,668 in 2011. These data do not indicate, however, what the reason for the emergency room visit was nor the extent other drugs (such as alcohol) had been used.

Marijuana possession arrests represent a declining percentage of all drug arrests, dropping from 45.6 percent of all drug arrests in 2009 to 40.6 percent in 2013. The 2009 share was the highest share of all drug arrests from 1989 to the present.

In 2012, there were 210,200 drug offenders (that being the most serious offense of the inmate in custody) in state prisons and 98,900 in federal prison. These drug offenders account for 16 percent of state inmates and 45.4 percent of federal prison inmates. There is no data reported on how many of these involve marijuana offenses.

The number of admissions to drug treatment programs where marijuana was the primary substance of abuse increased from 197,011 in 1997 to 305,560 in 2012. However, while not reported in the ONDCP report, a significant percentage (nearly half) of these admissions were due to referrals from the criminal justice system (in which treatment was accepted as an alternative to incarceration for marijuana possession charges).

The average price of marijuana has increased over the years, according to ONDCP, but has been falling recently.

This data comes from police reports involving undercover purchases. In purchases of 10 grams or less the price of a gram had increased from $13.06 in 1981 to $37.73 in 1991, but had fallen to $19.61 in 2001 and fluctuated in the low twenties since, before falling to $18.25 in 2012.

The potency of marijuana has been increasing, based on testing of samples provided by police to a research project at the University of Mississippi. In 1984, the potency of regular marijuana was 3.44 percent, increasing to 6.31 percent in 2013. The potency of sinsemilla was 7.95 percent in 1985 and has increased to 13.64 percent in 2013.  In 1985, only 1.6 percent of all seizures were sinsemilla. In 2013, 77.9 percent of all marijuana was seedless.

According to ONDCP, marijuana remains popular, is more potent, and prohibition is very expensive. So much for drug control under prohibition.

Previously in Pot Matters: Dissent in the Time of Trump, Pt. 2
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