II. America's Drug Use Profile
Marijuana: The Most Commonly Used Illegal Drug

Overall usage. The 1997 NHSDA estimated that 5.1 percent (11.1 million people) of the population aged twelve and older were current marijuana or hashish users, an increase of 0.4 percent from 1996.67 Marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug in the United States: approximately four of five (80 percent) current illegal drug users used marijuana or hashish in 1997.68 The number of first time users in 1997 increased by more than 100,000 to 2.5 million, continuing a trend that began in 1991. The mean age of initiation in 1996 was 16.4 years old, the lowest recorded.69

Current Use of Marijuana is Down Significantly
Source: 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

Use among youth. The 1998 MTF survey shows that marijuana continues to be the illegal drug most frequently used by young people. Among high school seniors, 49.1 percent reported using marijuana at least once in their lives, a decrease of one-half of a percentage point from 1997. By comparison, the figure was 44.9 percent for high school seniors in 1996 and 41.7 percent in 1995. Current use of marijuana by 10th graders declined from 34.8 percent to 31.1 percent. There was evidence of a reduction in the rate of increase of current use among 8th and 12th graders.

Marijuana Initiation Rates
Source: 1997 National Household Survey

Availability. No precise system, comparable to that used for analyzing cocaine, is available to estimate the amount of marijuana cultivated in the United States. ONDCP's Pulse Check has noted the widespread availability of marijuana for a number of years, suggesting that the supply of marijuana is either stable at high levels or increasing. The average price of marijuana dropped from $2.63 per gram at the wholesale level in 1997 to $2.59 in 1998. In the same period, the price of marijuana at the retail level increased from ten dollars per gram to $10.41.70 California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia are major growing states. In addition to the United States and Mexico, Canada is emerging as a marijuana source nation. Press accounts from the Pacific Northwest point to a new pattern in the trafficking of marijuana grown indoors in Canada and then sold in the United States as far south as San Diego. This marijuana is so psychoactively powerful that it is bartered by criminal gangs for cocaine on a pound-for-pound basis.71 During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the THC content of commercial-grade marijuana averaged below 2 percent and marijuana sold for prices ranging from $350 to $600 per pound. In 1997 the sale price typicallydid not fall below $1,300 per pound, and the average tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in samples analyzed by DEA -- which tends to be skewed towards the low end of the range -- was 5 percent.72

Average Age of First Marijuana Use is Declining
Source: 1997 National Household Survey

Marijuana Average Price 1981-1998
Source: Abt Associates for ONDCP -- Based on DEA's STRIDE Data


1999 National Drug Control Strategy Office of National Drug Control Policy