Racial And Ethnic Differences In Cannabis Use

Written by Jason Collins

With the widespread legalization of cannabis for both recreational and medical use across 50 states in the United States, there are many questions arising. One of the prominent questions on many minds is the racial and ethnic differences in cannabis use with its legalization.

A recent study has examined this topic in depth and has had interesting findings. [1] In our article, we will discuss these findings by exploring the differences in cannabis use amongst different races.


The Legacy Of Racism And Cannabis Use

Before delving into the statistical findings of racial and ethnic differences in cannabis use, we want to discuss its legacy. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination have been immersed in cannabis legislation for decades. [2] This statement can be proven by examining the thousands of cannabis-related arrests and incarcerations and their subsequent racial disparities.

According to 2018 data, the lifetime prevalence of cannabis use was only 45.3% for black individuals and 53.6% for white people older than 18. Yet despite this, black individuals were 3.64 times more likely to face an arrest if they are found to have cannabis on their person or with them.

Additionally, even in states where recreational cannabis laws (RCLs) are in place, black and Hispanic people have an increased likelihood of being arrested when compared to their white counterparts, despite cannabis arrest rates decreasing.


What Are The Racial And Ethnic Differences In Cannabis Use?

It’s important to monitor the unintended and intended consequences of recreational cannabis use by race and ethnicity. If monitoring doesn’t occur, there will be no way to know if adopting recreational cannabis laws contributes to greater equity in anti-racist policies.

The findings were interesting when looking at the survey parameters that detailed the racial and ethnic differences in cannabis use.

Before discussing the findings, it’s important to know that 838,600 people participated in the study. 15.8% were Hispanic, 64.6% were non-Hispanic white, 11.9% were non-Hispanic black, and 7.6% belonged to a race classified as other. In addition, 51.5% were women, and 48.5% were men.

According to the survey participant results among Hispanic (11.7% to 15.0%), white (16.6% to 19.4%), and ethnic races classified as other (14.8% to 18.5%) past year, cannabis use increased after recreational cannabis laws and medical cannabis laws were adopted. In addition, among Hispanics (6.4% to 8.9%), white (9.7% to 11.7%), and ethnic races classified as other (8.8% to 12.1%), past month cannabis use increased upon the adoption of recreational and medical cannabis laws.

What’s interesting is that no changes were found in cannabis use within the past year with black survey participants after the adoption of recreational and medical cannabis laws. This proves that the stigma surrounding black people and cannabis use is quickly becoming untrue.


Racial And Ethnic Changes In Cannabis Use According To Age Group

The recent study also analyzed racial and ethnic changes in cannabis use according to age group alongside race. There were no cannabis use changes recorded for those across all races between the ages of 12 and 20.

Curiously, there were also no cannabis use changes across black individuals across all age groups. The survey findings also established that living in a state with recreational cannabis laws did not increase the odds of daily cannabis use across all ages and ages.

However, living in a state that had recreational cannabis laws or medical cannabis laws resulted in increased odds of people using cannabis within the past year in white individuals between the ages of 21 to 41 and older.

It was also determined that Hispanic individuals also had an increased likelihood of using cannabis within the past year between the ages of 21 to 30 and 41 years and older. Moreover, Hispanic and white individuals aged 21 or older are more likely to use cannabis within the past month.

Essentially, the recent study findings prove that past year and past month, cannabis has consistently increased among non-Hispanic white respondents older than 21 in states where recreational cannabis use is legalized. The findings have also shown there are no changes in the past year and the past month of cannabis use with black respondents.

Furthermore, according to the study, black people still have an increased likelihood of being arrested for cannabis possession. 1.72 times more likely, to be exact. This is true even in US states that have legalized cannabis. This clearly indicated that despite changing policies surrounding cannabis consumption, the racist and discriminatory targeting of black people using cannabis persists.



Silvia S. Martins MD. Differences in cannabis use following legalization in US states by race and ethnicity. JAMA Network Open. Published September 27, 2021. [Journal Impact Factor = 13.35], [Times Cited = 11]


Unsplash/Elsa Olofsson

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Jason Collins

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