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Americans Not Convinced Marijuana Benefits Society

Americans Not Convinced Marijuana Benefits Society

Story Highlights

  • Americans are split over whether marijuana is good or bad for society
  • The slight majority say marijuana has a positive effect on most users
  • 16% report they smoke marijuana, with rates higher among young adults

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are evenly split in their views about marijuana's effect on society, with 49% considering it positive and 50% negative. They are slightly more positive about the drug's effect on people who use it, with 53% saying it's positive and 45% negative.


People's own experience with marijuana is highly related to their views on both questions.

  • Large majorities of adults who say they have ever tried marijuana -- which is nearly half of Americans -- think marijuana's effects on users (70%) and society at large (66%) are positive.
  • Conversely, the majority of those who have never tried marijuana think its effects are negative: 72% say this about its effect on society and 62% about its effect on users.

Americans' ambivalence about the effects of marijuana contrasts with their widespread support for legalization. According to Gallup's latest measure, 68% of U.S. adults, tied for the record high, think marijuana should be legal.

Also, although Americans have not reached a consensus on whether marijuana benefits people or society, they see it far more positively than they do alcohol. As Gallup reported previously, the same poll finds three in four adults believing alcohol negatively affects society, and 71% think it is harmful to drinkers.

These results are from Gallup's July 5-26 Consumption survey, conducted annually each July.

Marijuana Experimentation Holds Steady Near 50%

Similarly to recent years, nearly half of U.S. adults, 48%, report that they have ever tried marijuana. The rate was 4% when Gallup first asked about it in 1969, climbed to 24% by 1977, was 33% in 1985 and had crossed the 40% threshold by 2015.

Far fewer Americans say they currently smoke marijuana than have tried it. The 16% now reporting smoking it is the highest Gallup has recorded, although not by a statistically significant margin over last year's 12%.


The poll also asked Americans, for the first time, if they eat marijuana edibles, finding that 14% do.

The vast majority of people who consume marijuana edibles are also marijuana smokers, but not all marijuana smokers consume edibles -- just over half, 57%, say they do. By contrast, 5% of marijuana nonsmokers consume them.

Marijuana Use Still Skews Young

As Gallup has found previously, current marijuana smokers tend to be young, but other demographic differences are fairly modest. The same is found with consuming marijuana edibles. Experimentation with marijuana is similar by age, likely because older people who report having tried it did so when they were young.

Here are the current demographic patterns for all three marijuana-related behaviors.

Gender: Men are more likely than women to say they have ever tried marijuana, but the two genders are similar in their self-reports of smoking marijuana and consuming marijuana edibles.

Age: The highest usage rates are reported by adults 18 to 34, with 30% of this group saying they smoke marijuana and 22% consuming edibles. These figures drop to 16% each for adults 35 to 54 and 7% each for those 55 and older.

Education: Unlike the strong educational relationship seen with tobacco, education is not a great discriminator in people's use of marijuana. Those with a college degree are about as likely as those with no college education to have ever tried it or to use it currently.

Party: Democrats and independents report similar levels of marijuana use, while Republicans are less likely to smoke or eat it. They are also less likely to have ever tried it.


Consistent with these patterns, young people, Democrats and independents are more likely than older adults and Republicans to think marijuana is beneficial to society:

  • 62% of adults aged 18-34 and 53% of those 35-54 think marijuana has a generally positive effect on society; this contrasts with 37% of adults 55 and older.
  • The majority of Democrats (60%) think effects on society are positive, while the majority of Republicans think they are negative (64%), and independents are split at 49% each.

Bottom Line

Marijuana is considered a Schedule I controlled substance under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, meaning the federal government counts it among the most dangerous and addictive drugs, with a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

This puts federal law out of step with 38 states that have now legalized marijuana for medical purposes, including 19 that permit it for recreational use. The federal government's position may also come as a surprise to the slight majority of Americans who consider cannabis beneficial to users, most of whom have personal experience at least in trying it, if not using it themselves on a regular basis.

The future of marijuana legalization, at both the federal and state levels, may partly depend on what medical and other research studies show is the impact of the drug on users and society at large, particularly if its use continues to expand. But with young people being more familiar and comfortable with marijuana, their greater tolerance may be destined to prevail over time.

For now, Americans are roughly divided into proponents and detractors of the drug.

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