Regular Cannabis Users Exceeds Drinkers For First Time Ever 

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, May 26, 2024 - 11:50 PM

For the first time, a nationwide study providing current data on tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, mental health, and other health-related issues has found that the number of people smoking cannabis daily has surpassed those drinking beer or vodka daily. This development coincides with the Biden administration's efforts to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous substance.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has been conducted annually since 1990 and four times before (1979, 1982, 1985, and 1988). Data shows an explosive amount of daily cannabis use a few years after the Great Financial Crisis. The trend has become parabolic in the last ten years due to "a period of federal non-interference with the legalization of supply," according to the study's authors. 

Figure 1 shows sharp declines during the Reagan-Bush era to a nadir in 1992, a partial recovery between then and 2008, and substantial increases since 2008. Increases are greater, proportionally, for measures of more intense use. For example, between 2008 and 2022, the per capita rate of reporting past-year use increased by 120%, and days of use reported per capita increased by 218% (in absolute terms from the annual equivalent of 2.3 to 8.1 billion days per year). Since the 2022 NSDUH-estimated population 12 and older is 282.0 million, that is, 29 days per person per year, on average.

Growth is most striking for DND use, defined here as reporting use on 21 or more days in the past month. 2 From 1992 to 2022, there was a 15-fold increase in the per capita rate of reporting DND marijuana use (in absolute terms, from 0.9 million to 17.7 million DND users). That was because of a fivefold increase in the number of PM users (from 7.9 to 41.9 million) and a fourfold increase in the proportion of PM users who report DND use (from 11% to 42%).

Given the increased marijuana usage nationwide and legalization trends, with the Drug Enforcement Administration moving closer to reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug, the gap between the number of daily drinkers and marijuana has officially closed in the multi-decade dataset. In fact, there are now more regular marijuana users than alcohol users for the first time. 

Figure 2 compares growth in DND marijuana use to contemporaneous changes in DND alcohol use. In 1992, the household survey recorded 10 times as many DND alcohol as DND marijuana users (8.9 vs 0.9 million). Back then, a conversation about DND use of a dependence-inducing intoxicant was essentially a conversation about alcohol use. In the most recent survey, for the first time, NSDUH recorded more DND marijuana than DND alcohol users (17.7 vs 14.7 million).

That change reflects both growth in the number of PM marijuana users and changes in patterns of marijuana use. In 2022, the median drinker reported alcohol use on 4 to 5 days in the PM, whereas the median marijuana user reported use on 15 to 16 days in the PM.

This increased access has allowed the general population to consume more and more cannabis. A map from think-tank Pew Research shows that 74% of Americans reside in states that have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, with 54% living in states where pot is only permitted for recreational use. 

Here's a map of America's 15,000 cannabis dispensaries. 

A separate study from Gallup found regular cannabis usage differs by education and income, with the highest rates seen among the working poor. 

In markets, the top exchange-traded funds that buy marijuana companies have been rounding a multi-year bottom after the speculation craze during Covid. 

The next market driver could be the DEA's approval of an opinion by the Department of Health and Human Services that states marijuana should be reclassified from the strictest Schedule I to the less stringent Schedule III.