- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

College students are trading in Marlboros for marijuana according to a new report that suggests more undergrads smoke weed on a regular basis than tobacco cigarettes.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research reported this week that 5.9 percent of the college students they surveyed said they smoked marijuana at least 20 times in the previous month, enough to meet the school’s criteria for constituting “daily” use.

Only 5.2 percent of the undergrads polled said they smoke cigarettes roughly every day, however, indicating for the first time in the study’s 34-year history that marijuana is more commonly used among college students than cigarettes.

“It’s clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation’s college students,” Lloyd Johnston, the study’s lead investigator, said in a statement. “This largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors.”

The team behind the annual “Monitoring the Future” study said that the students’ answers indicated the highest rate of daily or near-daily marijuana smoking since 1980 when it first started collecting statistics.

Regular marijuana usage isn’t all that’s on the rise, though.

According to the study, college students are more inclined to experiment with pot now than in years past: the share of the undergraduate population who said they smoked weed at least once in the month before being polled has gone from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014; students who said they had tried pot in the previous year has gone from 30 percent of the campus in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014, the school said.

Cigarette smoking, meanwhile, is more unpopular with college students than ever. Nearly one-out-of-five students polled for Monitoring the Future’s report in 1999 said they smoked cigarettes just about every day, and the latest polling suggests today’s number is just one-fourth of that.

“These declines in smoking at college are largely the result of fewer of these students smoking when they were still in high school,” Mr. Johnston said. “Nevertheless, it is particularly good news that their smoking rates have fallen so substantially.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML, credits decades of ad campaigns with the decline in tobacco use among youths.

Speaking to The Washington Times on Wednesday, he said the results of the poll are “an indication young people are aware of the objective fact that tobacco is a far more deleterious substance to health than cannabis.”

Coupled with a decreasing popularity with routine alcohol consumption among college students — another finding included in this week’s report — Mr. Armentano said the data suggests adolescents can be properly educated about marijuana if done so in the same manner.

“Why are we seeing this downward trend associated with two legal drugs, yet we’re seeing either stability or an uptick in young people’s use of the prohibited drug?” he asked. “I think again it’s an indication that one, criminalization certainly does not seem to deter young people or impede their ability to obtain the substance, and two, it’s a reflection of the fact that you can regulate a substance that is available to adults while also putting forward a message to young people that this is a substance that is inappropriate for younger people to use.”

“You can motivate a change in behavior, and you can do it without criminalizing the substance for everybody and or putting in place a policy that calls for the arrest and incarceration of responsible adults who use the substance,” he said. “These results have not been achieved by imposing blanket criminalization upon society, but rather by imposing common sense regulation and science-based public education.”

Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia have all passed measures in recent years allowing for adults to legally enjoy recreational marijuana.

Mr. Armentano told the Times that the Michigan study doesn’t necessarily mean other states will follow suit, however, and said that historically there’s been hardly any correlation between marijuana use and respective policy.

According to this week’s report, binge drinking among college students was down 9 percentage points last year compared with statistics from 1980. Researchers spotted “steep declines” with respect to synthetic marijuana and salvia in recent years, and said the use of narcotics, inhalants and hallucinogens have all experienced a gradual but apparent decline as well.

Aside from marijuana, researchers said the results suggest amphetamine usage among college students is still more popular now than it was a few years earlier. The number of full-time undergrads who admitted using speed without the approval of a doctor represented roughly 5.7 percent of the students polled by the school in 2008 before spiking to 11.1 percent in 2012.

In 2014, the researchers said that 10.1 percent of the individuals surveyed admitted to non-medical use of amphetamines, which Johnston attributed with students likely using drugs in an effort to improve academic performance.

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