Support for marijuana legalization in the United States has risen steadily over the years. Today, a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug, although the number of people actually smoking it is far lower. Slightly more than 13% of Americans 12 years old and over report using marijuana in the past year.
Some states report much higher marijuana use than others. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentage of people 12 years old and over using pot at least once in the past year in every state from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Colorado leads the nation with 21.6% of teens and adults reporting use of the drug.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Colorado leads the nation in pot consumption. It was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and it is one of only four states where recreational use of the drug is permitted.
The state’s path towards legalization can be traced back to 2005, when Denver decriminalized marijuana possession. Led by founder Mason Tvert, the marijuana advocacy and nonprofit group, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), played a major role in changing Colorado’s laws. The group aimed to explain the facts about marijuana, particularly the drug’s relative safety compared to alcohol.
State adults over 21 years old may now legally possess 1 ounce of marijuana. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, Colorado generated $135 million in taxes and fees from all marijuana businesses in 2015.
States with fewer marijuana laws and restrictions tend to have higher cannabis use rates. All four states that legalized recreational marijuana use — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — are among the five states with the highest usage rates.
When it comes to medical marijuana, it is yet unclear whether legalization increases the accessibility and appeal of the drug to young people. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found there were no significant differences in marijuana use before and after medical marijuana policy changes. The study interviewed 12 million students across multiple years and several states.
While certain medical uses have widely acknowledged benefits, the evidence for and against recreational marijuana use is mixed. A number of studies have suggested heavy marijuana use during adolescence can have long term negative effects, including lower cognitive functioning, difficulty learning, and memory impairment. However, according to the American Psychological Association, it is still unclear whether there is a safe level of use or whether the brain changes associated with marijuana use are permanent.
Nationwide, 27.8% of Americans perceive smoking marijuana once a month to be a great risk. The share of survey respondents who believe the monthly use of the drug is harmful tends to be lower in states with the highest usage rates. In Colorado, only 18.8% of teens and adults perceive smoking pot once a month to be especially risky. Regardless of the perceived risk many Coloradans now exercise their right to smoke pot and the state is enjoying another source of revenue.