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Is Marijuana As Popular Today As It Was in the 1970s?

Is Marijuana As Popular Today As It Was In The 1970s?


Marijuana has been a part of the United States of America’s social identity dating back to the blossoming of the counterculture in the 1960s. Through the decades since its widespread use in the 1960s, and indeed even before that, marijuana has been a drug that polarized the masses and divided public opinion regarding its harmfulness. During the 1970s, the counterculture of the 1960s assisted in glamorizing the use of certain drugs, including marijuana.

Brief History of Marijuana in America

Marijuana has been a part of American civilization since the 1600s, when farmers were encouraged to grow the plant it comes from, called the hemp plant, on their farms. In early colonies, parts of the hemp plant were used to produce an abundance of materials to be used in products such as:

  • Rope
  • Sails
  • Clothing

In those early colonial years, hemp was even listed as a legal currency in the Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania colonies. Fast forward a few centuries. In the early 20th century, Mexican immigrants were coming to the United States in search of work and prosperity of their own. This immigration flow created fear amongst white Americans, wary of the scarcity of jobs in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The fear was then mongered by politicians and public officials, and propaganda such as the infamous film “Reefer Madness” began shaping public opinion on the use of marijuana.

The Numbers

The explosion of the counterculture and “hippies” of the 1960s brought marijuana use back into the mainstream of American culture, and the protest-minded hippy movement made way for the high use of marijuana in the 1970s. In 1971-72, a survey was conducted by National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Schaffer Commission), seeking to identify the prevalence of marijuana amongst young Americans. The study resulted in percentages larger than the commission expected:

  • 40 percent of 18-21 year-old participants claimed they had tried marijuana
  • 38 percent of 22-25 year-olds also claimed to have tried the drug
  • 8 percent of college students (aged 18-22) claimed to use marijuana on a regular, if not daily, basis

These numbers might seem off the charts, but we are close to those numbers today, according to multiple studies. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA), some 17.4 million Americans were using marijuana. This number had jumped from 14.4 million users in 2007. Even though this study didn’t separate via age, the sheer volume of marijuana users is staggering. Another more recent study did separate by age, and found participants acknowledging their marijuana use with rates similar to those of the 1971-72 Schaffer Commission study listed above. In 2012, SAMHSA studied participants 12 and older, and despite the younger and older age groups skewing the statistics, they found that:

  • 5.4 percent of the participants had used marijuana 300 or more times in the past year
  • 7.6 percent of the participants had used marijuana 20 or more times in the past month

These large rates of habitual use are numbers rivaling those of the early 1970s, when use was thought to have been peaking. Noticing the 3 million user uptick in the 3 years between the 2007 and 2010 SAMHSA studies, it’s easy to see the number is rising. Also, the climate surrounding marijuana use is not only accepted in the counterculture, but now that medical marijuana has proven its efficacy for certain illnesses and diseases, it is now being heralded as a mainstay in regular American culture.

The Verdict

With decriminalization happening in municipalities and at the state level all across the country (consider Washington and Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21), the numbers of marijuana users will do anything but drop. Some speculate that they will stabilize as the glamour of using the drug wears off, others contend that the numbers will continue to increase as more legislation is passed in the use of marijuana’s favor.

Regardless of which argument proves true, one thing is for sure: usage of marijuana among young Americans is on the upswing, and this generation is poised to rival the generation of the 1970s in its prevalence throughout the country.

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