WASHINGTON - Both college towns, Boston and Boulder, Colo., share another distinction: They lead the nation in marijuana use. Northwestern Iowa and southern Texas have the lowest use.

For the first time, the government looked at the use of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and various other substances, legal as well as illegal, by region rather than by state for a report Thursday.

Regions could be as specific as Riverside, Calif., or as broad as all of the state of New York (minus New York City). Federal officials say the information will help states decide where they should spend money for treatment and prevention programs.

For marijuana, 5.1 percent of people around the country reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days. In Boston, the home of Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern and several other colleges, 12.2 percent reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days.

In Boulder County, the home of the University of Colorado, 10.3 percent reported using marijuana during the same time period.

'We're not surprised'
John Auerbach, executive director of the public health commission for the city of Boston, said the survey might not reflect current marijuana use in Boston because the data came from 1999-2001 national surveys.

“All that said, we’re not surprised that substance abuse is a serious issue in the Boston area,” Auerbach said. “The mayor and the health department have made the issue of substance abuse a top public health priority.”