More Americans Are Smoking Weed Than Ever Before, Poll Shows
Although 49% of Americans said they have gotten high at least once in their lives, only 12% say they smoke pot regularly. And as cannabis use has gone up, tobacco use has gone down.
Published on August 17, 2021

A new national Gallup poll reports that nearly half of all Americans have tried cannabis at some point in their lives, the highest percentage that the polling company has ever recorded.

As cannabis exploded into popular culture in the late 1960s, Gallup added a question to its annual Consumption Habits poll asking whether respondents had “ever happened to try marijuana.” In 1971, only 4 percent of respondents answered yes to this question, but by the mid-1980s, about a third, or 33 percent, of Americans said they had tried weed. 

That percentage held pretty steady until the early 2010s, when states began legalizing adult-use cannabis retail markets. In 2013, 38 percent of adults said they had used pot at least once, and four years later, that percentage shot up to 44 percent. This year's survey, conducted in early July, shows another big jump to 49 percent, up from 45 percent in 2019.

But even though one out of every two American adults has tried weed, a much smaller proportion actually owns up to getting high on the regular. In 2013, Gallup began asking respondents whether or not they “smoke marijuana” currently. That year, 7 percent said yes, but that figure rose to 11 percent in 2016 and then leveled off to around 12 percent, where it remains today.

As pot use has increased, cigarette use has been falling. Back in 1955, Gallup reported that 45 percent of all Americans said that they smoked tobacco regularly, but that percentage has been falling steadily ever since. In 2019, the Consumption Habits poll reported that only 15 percent of Americans smoked tobacco, about the same amount that smoke weed. Independent research studies have also found that younger people are smoking more weed and fewer cigarettes.

In the current Gallup poll, a fairly even percentage of adults born between 1946 and 1996 admitted to trying weed. Over half of all millennials (51 percent) said they had tried cannabis, as did 49 percent of Gen X respondents and 50 percent of Baby Boomers. Interestingly, the percentage of Gen X'ers climbed from 44 percent in the 1990s, while the number of Boomers stayed at a solid 50 percent during that same time period. 

In contrast, only 19 percent of Traditionalists born before 1946 said they had used cannabis. But despite having the lowest percentage overall, this generation also showed the greatest growth. Between 1985 and 1999, only 10 percent of Traditionalists admitted to trying pot, but that percentage is nearly double today. Other recent research studies and polls have also found that the number of senior citizens who use cannabis has grown exponentially over the past decade.

And like pretty much every other weed-related poll, the current survey found that more liberal, less religious people are most likely to be down with weed. Only 3 percent of respondents who attend religious services weekly said they smoked pot currently, compared with 19 percent who seldom or never go to services. And 22 percent of political liberals and 15 percent of Democrats regularly use pot, versus 6 percent of conservatives and 7 percent of Republicans.

Although the current survey reports the highest-ever percentage of people who have tried weed, Gallup does not expect that figure to climb much higher in the near future. Despite the uptick among Gen X, the overall rates of one-time pot experimentation for anyone born between 1946 and 1996 has remained at around 50 percent. Gallup does not have enough data to report on current cannabis trends among Gen Z, though, because the current survey only enrolled respondents who are 18 or older.

“Gen Z's incidence of trying marijuana will likely determine the trajectory of the trendline,” Gallup explained. “If Gen Z experimentation rates are similar to their predecessors', the percentage may soon level off. It could, however, continue to grow if Gen Z and succeeding generations try marijuana at rates above 50 percent.”

It's remarkable that even though only half of Americans have ever tried weed, and only one in ten actually gets lit consistently, a much larger majority supports full federal legalization. Recent surveys by Gallup and other polling agencies have found support for adult-use legalization has grown from two-thirds a few years ago to a solid 75 percent today.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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