Marijuana use among college students hits a record high, here’s why

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The year 2020 will be remembered for many things — most notably the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But it’s also the year cannabis use among college students reached its highest level during the 21st Century, according to data journalism website Stacker.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2020 Monitoring the Future study — a report that tracks substance use in adults between the ages of 19 and 22 each year — revealed cannabis use that year was at the highest since the late 1980s.

The Monitoring the Future study findings include that in 2020:

  • 44% of college students reported using marijuana in the last year, compared with 38% in 2015.
  • Of that number 8% admitted to daily or “heavy” usage. (Marijuana use on 20 or more days within a 30 day period is considered “daily” or “heavy” use.)
  • As for young adults not enrolled in college, weed usage numbers stood at 43% — the same level as recorded in 2018 and 2019.


Published in January 2022, another study from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs uncovered the prevalence of marijuana use — not the frequency — had actually dropped during the pandemic among a small sample size of college students.

This study found that students’ residential situations — living as a dependent with family versus independent living — was a major factor. The report stated: “Living with parents appears to be protective against frequent cannabis use.”


And the rise in weed use is likely to increase among this age group — as well as others — as it has become legal in many states, including New York. Nearly half of people 12 years old or older in the nation have used marijuana at least once in their lives, according to National Center for Drug Abuse statistics. And almost 17% of all U.S. adults are current users, statistics show.

In 2021 New York became one of 16 states with full legalization of marijuana. The law decriminalized possession of up to three ounces of marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and 24 grams of concentrate, such as oils, and up to five pounds of marijuana at their personal residence.

The bill also called for automatic expungement of previous records for people with convictions for activities no longer illegal under the new legislation.

This law made it legal for New Yorkers to smoke weed in public wherever tobacco smoking is permitted with the exception of near schools and while driving.

In 2020, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reported there have been no marijuana-related overdoses, making it the least harmful of such substances, Stacker reported.


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