Students in the United States are using marijuana at the highest rate since 1980, according to recent results from a survey conducted by the University’s Institute for Social Research. Though the numbers attracted significant attention nationally, it’s unclear whether the findings mirror trends at the University.
The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Research and conducted annually for the past 35 years, found that one in 17 college students smokes marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis.
The number of students who said they had used marijuana within the past 30 days also increased in recent years, from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014. Additionally, the percentage of students who said they had smoked in the past year increased from 30 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014.
Lloyd Johnston, a research professor and senior research assistant at the Institute for Social Research, said the survey doesn’t provide a definitive answer as to whether these trends apply at the University. Because the survey pulled from students nationwide, there is no data specific to Ann Arbor.
However, he said because the University is academically rigorous and selective, marijuana use might not be as prevalent compared to other schools.
On the other hand, Johnston said the perception of marijuana’s risks has decreased in recent years, leading to increased use in many parts of the United States. The survey found the percentage of high school graduates, ages 19 to 22, who thought marijuana was dangerous decreased from 55 percent in 2006 to 35 percent in 2014.
“The proportion of people both college age and adolescent, for that matter, who see marijuana use as dangerous has been declining fairly sharply,” Johnston said. “I think that almost always leads to more use. Conversely, if we see an increase in perceived risk, that usually leads to less use. I think the key belief about whether it’s dangerous or not has been changing a lot. I think that has contributed considerably, if not totally, to the increase in daily use.”
LSA junior Ian Vamossy, assistant director of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said University students now see marijuana in a similar light as alcohol — a perception that has helped make marijuana use among students more common. He said the “War on Drugs” has failed, and hopes for a more open approach to drug policy in the future.
“I just think the stigma is finally breaking overall,” he said. “People know that it’s not necessarily healthy, but it’s less damaging than tobacco. I think a lot of the people who grew up in the Reagan administration with ‘just say no’ are growing up and finally realizing that it’s not the right way to go about it.”
An LSA sophomore interviewed by The Michigan Daily said she uses marijuana recreationally and enjoys the social aspect of smoking. The student was granted anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
She also noted Ann Arbor’s relative openness to marijuana compared to other communities.
“The local people are already comfortable with having dispensaries on the main streets and hosting something like Hash Bash, which has been around since the ’70s,” she said. “It’s always been the culture of Ann Arbor that it’s not a detrimental part of their society. Weed is so widespread, and as widespread as alcohol is in other places. The liberal vibe of Ann Arbor is what keeps it going.”
Another finding: daily cigarette use has significantly decreased, from a 19 percent usage rate in 1999 to a 5 percent usage rate in 2014.
Johnston said a number of young marijuana users are grappling with poor mental health, and, in turn, look to marijuana as a coping mechanism.
“Probably a disproportionate number of those users are dealing with depression or psychological conditions and using marijuana to escape their feelings,” Johnston said. “That’s not the only reason, but I think that’s got to be part of that population.”
The LSA sophomore interviewed by the Daily said an increasingly prominent conversation about marijuana may pave the way for more widespread use.
“I think people are realizing that the effects aren’t as bad as our government has tried to show us with making it illegal,” she said. “People are more willing to try smoking, and then as more people do, it becomes more accessible.”