Marijuana Smoking Up, Marijuana Arrests Down

C1_8734_r_xIt’s a great time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker. We are finally working our way out of the shadows of prohibition and into the mainstream. Following the reign of terror that resulted in more than 25 million Americans being arrested on marijuana charges since 1937, the country is at last looking for a better alternative.

Fewer marijuana smokers are being arrested.

Flickr/Oregon Dept. of Transportation –

First, and most important, fewer and fewer states continue to treat responsible marijuana smokers like criminals. Seventeen states have decriminalized the personal use of marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use. With each new state that moves in our direction, the number of marijuana arrests continues to decline.

The latest marijuana arrest data released this week by the FBI show that 643,122 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 2015, with 89 percent of those arrests for marijuana possession only, not for cultivation or trafficking. While that number remains far too high — that’s a lot of individuals having their lives and careers disrupted unfairly over their use of marijuana — it is the lowest number of marijuana arrests reported since 1996. And it represents nearly a 25 percent reduction in arrests since the peak (almost 800,000 arrests) was reached in 2007.

“Enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana,” according to the ACLU’s 2013 report on marijuana arrests.

With five states scheduled to vote on full legalization this November, marijuana arrest rates are expected to continue to decline further in the coming years. We clearly still have lots of work to do, but the trend is all in our direction, and the pace appears to be accelerating.

More Americans are smoking marijuana.


Second, marijuana smoking continues to become more mainstream culturally, with more and more adult Americans smoking each year. Instead of being ostracized and marginalized, marijuana smokers today are being embraced by the larger culture. For most Americans today, smoking marijuana is simply no big deal.

About 30 million Americans smoked marijuana over the past year, more than double the number of smokers in 2002, and 69 percent of the country now are aware that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

One in eight Americans (13 percent) now reports that they currently smoke marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s nearly double the number of current users (7 percent) found by Gallup just three years earlier, with 43 percent of Americans acknowledging they have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. One in five adults under 30 years of age is now a pot smoker.

Flickr/Dank Depot –

And yet the number of adolescent marijuana smokers has not increased over the last decade, and adolescents tell us that marijuana is becoming less available to them than in prior years. The percentage of respondents aged 12-17 years who perceived marijuana to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between 2002 and 2014, researchers at the CDC reported. Regulation with age controls is clearly more effective than prohibition.

As marijuana smoking continues to gain popularity, it also gains respectability, with fewer and fewer Americans supporting marijuana prohibition. They are not necessarily pro-pot, but — just as the country learned with the failed attempt at alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early ’30s — a majority of the public has concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself. Roughly 60 percent of the public now supports ending prohibition and legalizing marijuana.

Among generations, the demographics are strongly pointing toward ending prohibition altogether. About 68 percent of Millennials say marijuana should be legal, and 50 percent of baby boomers favor legalization. Young Americans simply have no problem with marijuana and can’t understand why it was ever made illegal.

High quality marijuana is available today.

Flickr/fredodf, Bigstock/greg banks –

Finally, high quality marijuana is available to most consumers today, regardless of where you live. The marijuana legalization movement is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom. The government has no business coming into our homes to know what books we read, what music we listen to, how we conduct ourselves in the bedroom, and whether we drink alcohol or smoke marijuana when we relax in the evening. It is simply none of their business.

If there were no marijuana to smoke, this movement would still be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it would not be a political movement that is changing fundamental values in our country. We have political power as a movement because we are part of a community, and our marijuana smoking helps define that community.

There was a time when marijuana smokers had to make a serious effort to find a source to obtain decent marijuana, and in many parts of the country, there was frequently a “marijuana drought” for a couple of months each fall, before the new crop was harvested, when there was simply no marijuana available for consumers to buy on the black market. During those years, most high quality marijuana was imported. Some came from Canada, some from Mexico (“Acapulco Gold”). There was ganja from Jamaica, “Thai stick” from Thailand, etc. Domestic marijuana during those years was considered “ditch weed” and only smoked as a last resort.

And because of the legal risks involved importing marijuana, the price sometimes put high quality marijuana out of reach for many consumers, even if available. It was largely a connoisseur’s market.

Then the “grow America” movement took off. With seeds imported primarily from Holland and Canada, domestic marijuana growers began to produce the finest marijuana in the world. That remains the case today. Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam, for example, will find that most of the marijuana available in the famous coffee shops, while good, is simply not as strong as the marijuana available in most states today, either via the legally regulated market or on the black market.

We’re looking for basic fairness.

Flickr/Heath Alseike, Flickr/Unai Mateo –

We still have a great deal of work to do before responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly: Job discrimination, child custody issues, and DUID are just three of the more important areas where smokers are still treated like second class citizens. And we need social clubs where we can legally socialize with our friends and others who also smoke marijuana, outside a private home.

But these reforms will come as we continue to come out of the closet and gain political strength and as more and more Americans accept the fact that we are just average Americans who work hard, raise families, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities in a positive manner. When we relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, tens of millions of us enjoy a joint.

Is this a great country or what?


This column first ran on

26 thoughts

  1. Pot should be legalized for 21 over all over the US. My neighbor starts chemotherapy next week and asked his talk to her about getting some pot for nausea. The doctor said he thought that some oil had been legalized but he had no idea where to get it. Yes they did legalize it in Georgia for six different things not the things I need it for that help me so much but they passed some Connell well that takes the THC out and then they didn’t make a venue for getting it. Real smart. If you getting chemo and you get some pot for the nausea why not let the poor bastard get high too. Big Pharma doesn’t want to legalize because of all the money they’ll lose from opiates.

  2. Why is NORML always all about smoking???

    When you say smoking in your articles, do you really mean smoking or any kind of usage; e.g. vaporizing or edibles?

    I smoked when I was younger but never liked it at all. I just liked the effect. Since getting a nice vaporizer I’ve really never wanted to smoke again.

    It is worth noting that the highest incarceration rate, 800,000 in one year, came during the last year of Republican George Bush’s reign of terror. Under Democratic President Obama a bit of sanity has finally creeped in.

    I will be voting for Hillary. She stinks but we just can’t let Trump win… I really like Gary the most though and it is truly sad that I can’t feel comfortable about voting for him when stopping Trump is so terribly important. Trump is truly a menace not only to America but to the world in my opinion.

    1. Well said – we need to get away from the term smokers and maybe say “users” instead. Vaping is a much better way to consume cannabis (NOT “marijuana” btw !)

      1. Ok, I wasn’t going to say anything guys but “no smoking?” Or “users?”
        If you’re looking for a politically correct, ambiguous generic term for us all, “marijuana consumers” gets as close as we can get, and I bet we’d still piss off homegrowers who don’t want to be identified as “cobsumers.”
        Fact is Keith is taking a stand for the most vulnerable yet traditional form of consumption of marijuana since our ancestors accidentally threw a bale of it in the village fire, to the delight of all humanity.
        Who do you really think is going to get arrested, discriminated or if you’re black, killed first? Someone sneaking a toke on a vaporizer or someone rolling and lighting a joint? When we get public venues in Colorado theyre only going to be vapor friendly, leaving smokers to protest on rooftop bars or smoke at home. And you still complain like were going to put gas masks on all the people with vaporizers and shotgun them till the pass out!
        This is a marijuana reform blog, not a vapor-only social club, so let’s smoke… or vaporize… a bowl and try and keep it in perspective shall we?

      2. I meant my comment to be inclusive of people who ingest or use cannabis in all it’s forms. Smoking is really very outdated means of use that is probably the most anti social, harmful and inefficient way to use cannabis. If that is what you like to do that is OK but it should not be seen as the de facto way. You can vape, eat, drink, rub it into your skin, bathe in it etc

        I object to the term marijuana because it is an old prohibition term that is derogatory in much the same way as we do not use the racially offensive terms of the pre civil rights revolution. At least we have got away from the awful term “dope” !

      3. I mention a “bale of marijuana” accidentally being dragged into the “village fire” to the “delight of all humanity” and you maintain that “smoking marijuana” is “antisocial?!!”
        Are you aware of the natural method of consumption for marijuana by our own ancestors?

  3. As a resident of Illinois I see the full affect prohibition has had not only on the residences, but the lawmakers and governor as well. Prohibition has left a sour taste in the mouths of all of us. You can walk through the streets of towns like Quincy Illinois and smell bbqs being lit, fresh cut grass, and the sweet smell of gonga.
    Illinios is seeing what kind of profit they can gain from marijuana being sold and taxed compared to its residents being taxed for being caught with it. Don’t be fooled though.. Illinois is still in the process of finishing up the pilot program they have started. They have made lead way, at the same time they are at a stand still.
    You can drive through Illinois and see their inhabitants sitting on their stoop with a joint or even passing a blunt to a stranger that is passing by. But be weary of smoking and driving. Illinois has provisions set In affect for those whom decide to abuse marijuana and drive.
    The new laws that the lawmakers have revised for dui’s in Illinois are still changing. You may not read about it in the news, but Illinois is in a conundrum. They have decided not to check an individual’s urine for the presence of THC, rather, they have caught on that it is not feasible to look for the presence substance without looking for the actual amount that is in someone’s body through toxicology.
    Those who live in Illinois still have unanswered questions. And yet the governor’s office is hesitant in their responses. There are people in limbo. Dui cases that occurred previous to the new law changes are being prosecuted under the old marihuana laws do to one word, “retroactive.” Until Govenor Bruce Rauner can make the new Dui laws retroactive, law abiding citizens will be taking pleas for crimes they should have never been charged for.

  4. Miles says:
    October 3, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    The National Democrats have double crossed us every chance they could since Bill Clinton in 1992. They give us a wink during election time and then ignore us.

    The Choomer in Chief has done very little to end Federal Prohibition.

    I’m sick of it. I’m not voting Clinton. I don’t trust her promises. And the Democrat Party should take a beating for its behavior.

    1. This is Miles, as a regular contributor to this blog I can tell you that these words did not come from me.

      I do not know where MSimon got this from.

  5. Well of course I second @Miles’ question about the $moking overload in this article– “Smoking Up, Fewer $mokers Arrested, More Americans $moking” etc. “$moke”, “$moker(s), $moking” etc. occur 21 times in article and captions, “Vaporize” not mentioned once (though a recent survey finds 15% of cannabis users and rising are now vaporizing). Three pictures (the part kids see while Mom reads) all showing young adults sucking on combu$tion joints.

    Maybe time to ask, Is the fix in? Are certain big-D (Dollar) Donors demanding NORML pointedly ignore the Vaporize option in its headlines and pictures? Are threats involved?

    If NORML succeeded in helping persuade cannabis users to switch to Vapor, and millions of nicoaddicts followed, the $400-bil./year $igarette paper hegemony would suffer its worst hit in history (200,000,000 medical murders since 1853) and millions of geld-earning minions would have to be retrained (try planting trees instead of killing them).

    PS. agree with @Miles, vote Hillary, don’t let Trump/Pence/Christie get controll.

  6. It’s so great to see the roll-back of the suffocating MJ laws in this country. I’m hoping we can add a few more states to this freedom parade in November.

    That fewer people are being busted for MJ possession is proof of the success of the legalization efforts across the country.

  7. Today I made a registration day. Registering my truck and trailer plus a permit for Mexico as a reason to miss a day of work, of course, but I hung out with a few of my younger brother’s roommates in Austin, rolled a few joints and got them registered and showed them the state voter guide:

    And the federal:

    And pretty much discovered our best chance at decriminalization in Texas next year is for them to vote Democratic up and down the ballot. My district in the next county has an exception; Republican state rep, Jason Isaac, who has no one running against him (welcome to Texas), but in fact he has warmed up to decriminalization in a big way and I’m getting a good feeling HB507 has a real chance to pass even during a non presidential election year.
    So were kickin back around the lunch hour watching Peele and Key as stoners in their early twenties will do, and we talked about how good the weed is from Colorado and I asked them “when’s the last time ya’ll ever smoked any o that dirty pesticide-ridden moldy crap the cartels smuggled up from Mexico?” And the 24 year old leaned back with pause, “not since high school…” (or school high…) to which I chuckled because he made it sound like so long ago. But in reality, 6 years ago was before Colorado legalized. Then I had another epiphany; There will be a whole new generation of 18-year-old high school graduates who are now having LESS access to good weed, who will get roommates, go to college and/or join the workforce that will have no idea what it was like to smoke crappy weed with perfume in it to mask the smell from drug dogs!
    “These little bastards!” I cried out sarcastically, “The only thing they’ll smell are the fresh terpenes of some of the best, cleanest, safest most potent strains on earth!” I watched them fill out their voter registration cards. I smiled and took a deep toke.

      1. Then you’ll like this;

        Former prime minister of Portugal, António Guterres, as in the guy responsible for decriminalizing Portugal in 2001 has just been elected as UN Secretary General. This could open the door to world-wide decriminalization policies.

        While the debate today on NPRs On Point between Mason Tvert of MPP and Kevin Sabet of Project SAM had Tvert calling out Sabet on receiving funds from Insys and Sabet promoting decriminalization over legalization in regards to 5 states facing legalization initiatives, clearly decriminalization is better than what most countries have right now. Even Denmark, the “least corrupt country in the world,” is threatening a couple with 10 years in prison for openly dustributing marijuana to patients including those with cancer. (And then theres the Philippines, but we only get 2000 characters per post).
        With Canada legalizing, Guterrez taking charge at the UN and 5 states on the ballot could be looking at a pivotal shift in international socioeconomic drug policy.

  8. Stunning blog.

    One word in particular touches on one specific aspect of marijuana prohibition that has affected my life in profound ways, both good and bad; in a word: “community.”

    I grew up outside that community; it was always an arms length away, and out of reach most of the time. So for me, the key word was “alienation.”

    In my early adolescence, the overwhelming majority of people in my life were strongly opposed to marijuana use, and either actively or passively supportive of marijuana prohibition. I was forced to adopt the identity of “criminal”, or at the very least, “outsider.” By osmosis, I also absorbed a lot of the hostile pejoratives: “druggie”, “loser”, “wastoid”, and so on.

    Additionally, I’m a recovering alcoholic who drank like a fish at that time, and so it was difficult for me, and others, to separate my real drug problems from contrived political drug problems.

    I was aware that there existed various marijuana-friendly communities, and I participated whenever I could, but for the most part, psychologically-speaking, I was alone.

    That continued through my teens, right up until 2008, I was nearly fifty years old, when Obama was elected, and the dispensaries started blowing up in Colorado.

    It’s only now that I’m in my fifties, that society has just opened up the door for me, just a crack! I had already quit alcohol and tobacco; so now I just use cannabis, and my health has never been better, mentally and physically.

    So I’m celebrating. I realize that’s not every American’s experience; some had it better, some had it worse. I acknowledge those important differences.

    Once, years ago, while I was lamenting my alienation, someone told me, “Go find your people.” I decided to take that advice.

    Now here I am with “Y’all!” My peeps.

    Community. Now let’s open it up for the rest of our people who still ain’t free.

    1. I agree Mark! Hope to fire one up (or vape a bowl) with you sometime. Welcome to the community. Of course I still can’t toke on a big fattie yet – still get random drug tested down here in Key Largo at my day job, so I hope to join you soon.

      1. Thank you, Keith. Looking forward to it.

        I sympathize with your situation regarding drug-testing. For me, employment drug testing has been “another brick in The Wall” of alienation (borrowing from Pink Floyd) which has caused me so much rage, resentment and contempt toward corporate Amerika, and ultimately drew me toward the social cause of marijuana legalization.

        When The People in Colorado voted to legalize, I naively thought the business community would voluntarily ease up on marijuana discrimination. Yet the business community just kept right on drug-testing; it truly highlighted the absurdity of American society. Who the hell do these businesses think they are, these McDonalds and Walmarts and so forth, to demand bodily samples from employees in order to maintain social control for purposes of corporate profit?

        Hope you’re set to vote for the big one down there in Florida! Best of luck!

  9. That’s awesome that cannabis is hitting the mainstream and all of us older smokers get to see it happen. However, it needs help desperately. For example, I live where cannabis is legal however, there is no access to medical cannabis for two years. Shouldn’t a program be in place before you dangle the carrot in front of the rabbit? Now what?? It really sucks. I need it now. But don’t want to break any laws.. Finding good cannabis without a dispensary no way.. I’m a strain specific smoker and that’s what I need.

  10. Check it out!

    Damien Markey is buying a closed prison in California and turning it into a grow operation!
    That is so powerfully symbolic I believe he has an opportunity to create parking, open up the venue at night, bring Stephen and sing “All night.”
    The metal roofs can be converted into rain water collection and the flatroofs decorated with outdoor marijuana, tables and outdoor sofas for smoking, eating or just chilling.

    Some of the buildings could be converted into a marijuana prohibition museum tour with wirkshops and an educational center. Hell, lets turn prisons into grow-op schools and put former prison guards to work for the community!

    1. Damien “Marley,” not Markey-Mark or whatever I wrote. Sorry, got exited. That is so bad @$$ what he’s doing!

      1. Yes @Juli do get exited, oops excited and make good points like that last one about creating new jobs for the boobs from the doomed drug, tobacckgo or prison industries, our herb will be universally greeted if it can create more jobs than trumple’s casinos can.
        Take a look at,, where you can write articles showing how to farm some strain or make some herb-affirmative product (example: the wikiHow “Smoke Pipes from Everyday Objects” article which will be retitled as soon as I have the nerve, the website claims a million readers have seen it).
        In India 3 million women sit in the house doing sweatshop labor hand-rolling “beedis” (a 450-gram tobacckgo $igarette using a tendu leaf instead of rolling paper). Get an expressively illustrated article written & posted showing how to make a Choomette (flexdrawtube-equipped 25-mg-capacity screened chillum), by the time they’ve made enough of those to supply the whole planet we’ll have advertised plenty of other products they can move on to making.

  11. Thanks for another excellent article, Keith. You have been our man in Washington so long. How many times have I felt hopeless, and looked to NORML for hope and support? Too many to count. It seems like you have always been there. We met one time and I know you meet millions of people – but I consider you a friend. I am humbled by the way you have given up millions of dollars in legal fees that you could have been making as a lawyer to help marijuana smokers. I have given up my share for the cause, gone public and felt the backlash, but never so much as you. Thank you, buddy. God bless you and your family. You will be remembered as warmly as a Founding Father, but with less baggage than some of those fellows.

Leave a Reply