Last Wednesday was 4/20, so this week is an excellent time to consider the eternal stoner questions: Just how many Americans smoke pot? And just how many have ever smoked it?
Fortunately, the U.S. government has some answers for you that for once seem reasonably plausible.
Last September, the Feds released three tables comparing the estimates of marijuana use found in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The tables compared 2013 and 2014 estimates for the number of Americans who used marijuana at least once in their lives, at least once in the past year, and at least once in the past month.
The annual estimates are based on some 70,000 interviews with a randomly selected sample of Americans aged 12 or older.
Start with the question of how many have ever inhaled. In 2013, there were an estimated 114,712,000 Americans over the age of 12 who had smoked pot at least once in their lives. In 2014, the number increased to 117,213,000 (44.2 percent of the population age 12 or older).
The number of Americans who used pot at least once in the past year was 32,952,000 (12.6 percent of the age group) in 2013 and 35,124,000 (13.2 percent) in 2014.
The third comparison — how many people smoked marijuana in the past month — is probably as good an answer as you’re going to get to the question of “How many Americans smoke pot?”
In 2013, an estimated 19,810,000 Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana in the past month (7.5 percent of the age group). In 2014, the number rose to an estimated 22,188,000 (8.4 percent) — a year-to-year increase of 2,378,000.
What the survey did not find was evidence of much of a surge in the number of kids aged 12 to 17 smoking pot.
Among the nation’s roughly 12 million middle schoolers — ages 12, 13 and 14 — the estimated number smoking pot once a month actually declined — from 277,000 in 2013 to 245,000 in 2014, a drop of 32,000.
The estimated number of 12-year-olds smoking pot in 2014 was 20,000 out of an age cohort of roughly 4 million. In 2013, it was 21,000 out of a similar age cohort.
Among the nation’s high schoolers — ages 15, 16 and 17 — the estimated number of monthly pot smokers is much larger than among middle schoolers — 1,156,000 in 2014 among an age cohort of roughly 12 million, a gain of 101,000 from 2013, when figure for 2013 was 1,762,000.
Most of the increase occurred among 17-yearolds; in 2014, an estimated 81,000 more smoked pot in the past month than did in 2013.
But the demographic groups that showed the greatest increase in monthly pot smoking from 2013 to 2014 were found at the other end of the age spectrum. Americans aged 55 to 59 — boomers born at the height of the post-war baby boom in other words — registered the largest year-over-year numerical increase of any age cohort in the study. The estimated number of them smoking pot in the past month rose from 910,000 in 2013 to 1,578,000 in 2014, an increase of 668,000 in the space of a year.
A similar trend turned up among older boomers as well. Among the 60 to 64 cohort, estimated monthly pot use rose from 548,000 in 2013 to 763,000 in 2014, a 215,000 increase. And among 65 and older, the number who reported smoking pot once a month jumped from 377,000 in 2013 to 575,000 in 2014, a 198,000 increase, most of which can probably be ascribed to early model boomers entering the geezer years.
Robin Williams once famously said that if you can remember the ’60s you weren’t there. Maybe some of them wanted to see what they missed. Or wanted to miss what they saw.