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More Americans Are Smoking Pot, But Use Among Teens Is Down

As lawmakers take steps to protect marijuana businesses, a new government report shows that the drug's popularity is mostly growing among adults.

Posted on May 30, 2014, at 7:25 p.m. ET

© Rick Wilking / Reuters

A marijuana plant in Colorado.

Advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana had cause to celebrate Thursday night: The House voted to end DEA raids on medicinal marijuana businesses in states where they are legal.

Though the amendment that would ban the raids still faces several hurdles before it becomes law, it was an important symbolic victory for marijuana advocates.

In addition, Minnesota joined 21 other states Thursday when it passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana.

Which raises the question: Who exactly is using marijuana anyway?

Mark Leffingwell / Reuters

A woman blows marijuana smoke in Denver, Colo., April 20,

Last week, the CDC released a hefty report answering that question.

The report breaks down marijuana usage by age, gender and race. The CDC's data doesn't take into account the most recent laws legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, but it does show longer-term trends. Much of the data was collected via home interviews conducted during the entire year it represents — so, for example, 2002 data was gathered over the course of 2002. For 2012, the sample size was made up of 68,309 people. Data on teen marijuana usage was gathered from yearly interviews with between 45,000 and 50,000 high school students.

Following is a closer look at highlights from the report:

Over the last decade, the number of Americans using marijuana has increased by slightly more than 1 percent.

BuzzFeed graph, via data by the Centers for Disease Control

In 2002, 6.2 percent of Americans had used marijuana sometime during the previous year. By 2012, that number increased to 7.3 percent.

But not everyone is lighting up more these days. Teenagers are actually using less marijuana today than they did in 2002.

BuzzFeed graph, via data by the Centers for Disease Control

In 2002, 15.7 percent of older teenagers were using marijuana. By 2012, that number had dropped to 14 percent. Marijuana usage rates among younger teenagers also saw decreases during the last decade.

These patterns follow much longer trends as well. When the CDC asked high school seniors in 1980 if they had used marijuana in the last month, 33.7 percent said they had. By 2012, that number dropped to 22.9 percent.

The biggest increases in marijuana usage have come from adults aged 26 to 34.

BuzzFeed graph, via data by the Centers for Disease Control

Among adults transitioning from youth to middle age, marijuana usage climbed by nearly four points, from 7.7 percent in 2002 to 11.3 percent in 2012. Adults over the age of 35 also used more marijuana, but the increase was by less than one percentage point.

Adults between the ages of 18 and 25 use the most marijuana, but increases among that demographic were smaller and less linear over time.

BuzzFeed graph, via data by the Centers for Disease Control

Men use more marijuana, though over the last decade it became increasingly popular among both genders.

BuzzFeed graph, via data by the Centers for Disease Control

Marijuana usage among men is plotted in blue, while usage among women is plotted in red.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

A customer pays for retail marijuana at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver May 8.

It's difficult to say what effect legalization will have on these numbers, but for much of the time covered by this data marijuana has been getting easier to access.

California legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996 and was followed by an ever-growing list of other states. While that was going on, marijuana became more popular among adults in their early professional years. The CDC report doesn't delve into causes of these shifts, but it's hard not to notice the correlation between age and access.

According to the CDC, the use of cocaine, ecstasy, inhalants, cigarettes, and even alcohol also decreased among high school students over this same period.