Just in time to inform the debate over California's Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for those 21 and older, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released its annual report on drug useage in the nation.
It shows that marijuana useage is slightly on the rise, after having dropped off the last few years. It reports that 7.3 percent of the population (from age 12 upward) used marijuana within the past month in 2009, up from 6.7 percent the previous two years. The biggest jump was among the 18-25 cohort, where the rate of current marijuana use jumped from 16.5 percent to 18.1 percent. Among college students, about one in five, or 20.2 percent, smoke pot currently in 2009.
In California, the overall rate of past month useage was slightly lower, 6.7 percent.
As for national figures for other commonly used drugs: 51.9 percent are current users of alcohol and 27.7 percent are current smokers of tobacco.
Proponents of Proposition 19 might look at these figures and reasonably ask what college students are learning about respect for the law when the law makes it a crime to do what one out of five of their peers do on a regular basis.