In less than two decades, Americans doubled their support for legal weed

Legalize it, they say.
Legalize it, they say.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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Legal weed is having its moment in the US.

All but four states have legalized cannabis in some form, and the US pot market is booming. It took in almost $9 billion in legal sales in 2017. And that’s before California, the most populous state, opened its massive retail market on Jan. 1, which is estimated to reach $5.1 billion alone this year.

Marijuana is also gaining traction among the political class—Vermont became the first state to pass legalization through its legislature in January; New Jersey governor Phil Murphy won with cannabis as a central issue of his campaign platform and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon appears to be following his lead.

More Americans then ever support legalizing weed

As more states move to legalize, public support for marijuana is at an all-time high. Sixty-one percent of Americans favor of legalizing cannabis in some form according to Pew Research. That’s nearly double the number of those who supported legalization in 2000.

The growing destigmatization of marijuana may be the reason it’s the most commonly used illicit drug in the US. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 24 million Americans, 9% of the population, aged 12 or older were monthly cannabis users in 2016.

A 2017 Marist-Yahoo poll puts monthly-use puts estimates even higher, at 14 % of Americans 18 and older.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year Justice Department may step up enforcement in jurisdictions that have legalized the drug. Despite the threat of federal prohibition, legalization is gaining traction as state governments eye hundred of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue that could go towards funding schools and infastructure.

Are more people smoking weed than before?

Yes and no.

Around the world, pot use has been pretty flat. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that in 2015 about 4% of the global population had used cannabis in the past year, a percentage that hasn’t changed for a decade.

Still, as the world population grows, so does the number of cannabis users. Marijuana use is on the rise in Africa and Asia, which have seen explosive population growth in recent years.

And marijuana use is increasing significantly in the United States. The UNOFC estimates that pot use among  Americans 12 and older increased by 34% from 2007 to 2015. And the highest increase in new users isn’t among kids or college students—it’s among adults over 26, a trend that’s been increasing since 2002.

The UN says the primary increase has been in regular and heavy pot smokers, which nearly doubled between 2002 and 2015. And potheads may have reason to be optimistic: So far, studies of drug use in states with legal weed haven’t revealed any significant negative effects, and in some cases, has even shown health benefits.