College Students Smoking Marijuana Daily at Highest Levels Since 1980

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Sep 03, 2015 4:20 PM
College Students Smoking Marijuana Daily at Highest Levels Since 1980

More college students are smoking marijuana than smoking cigarettes for the first time ever, a new study shows.

The University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future survey found that 5.9 percent of college students--about one out of 17--reported smoking marijuana daily in 2014. This is the highest figure since 1980, the first year data was available. Only five percent of students said they smoked cigarettes each day. The five percent figure is a drop of nearly 75 percent from the 1999 Monitoring the Future survey, which found that 19 percent (nearly one in five) students admitted to smoking cigarettes daily.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014—the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days.

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Much of this increase may be due to the fact that marijuana use at any level has come to be seen as dangerous by fewer adolescents and young adults. For example, while 55 percent of all 19-to-22-year-old high school graduates saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, only 35 percent saw it as dangerous by 2014.

This shows the value of honest conversations about drugs. Given that I'm roughly the age of the students surveyed (I graduated from college in 2013), I lived through the same programs and went to the same drug prevention classes as the students surveyed in this survey. I'm not at all surprised that my generational peers are eschewing "tradition" and preferring marijuana to tobacco. We were exposed to honest truths about tobacco--and lied to about marijuana.

I grew up listening to and watching the heart-rending commercials and radio ads about the dangers of smoking. They worked! Every time I see the CDC's commercials starring Terrie Hall, my heart breaks and it's an effective visual that tobacco has the power to disfigure and kill someone. Terrie Hall was a real person--she wasn't a cartoon in our D.A.R.E. booklets. That was an effective campaign by the CDC. 

Marijuana, on the other hand, is not discussed honestly, leading to ever-increasing numbers of teens who simply don't think the drug is dangerous. In my D.A.R.E classes, marijuana was presented as a "gateway drug" (it's probably not) that will turn users into friendless shells of themselves. Obviously, this isn't true. (More recently, D.A.R.E. promoted an obvious satire about 21 people dying from marijuana candies as a fact. It is effectively impossible to die from a pot overdose.) Thankfully, around the time I actually took D.A.R.E., officials realized that the program is a massive failure that needed to be revamped--but the damage had been done.

Cigarette use is dropping among college students, despite being perfectly legal to purchase and consume. If anti-drug advocates want to effectively reduce marijuana use among teens and college students, they should take a page out of the anti-tobacco playbook: honest discussions, not hysterics.