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"Public perception of the low risk of marijuana is discordant with available evidence."

As part of the push to legalize marijuana, proponents have downplayed its risks.  The public now increasingly believes that marijuana, including its secondhand smoke, is harmless and even beneficial.  In fact, the majority of US teenagers believe that regular marijuana use is not harmful.  The spread of legalization, along with appealing branding, will likely contribute to these beliefs.

Our Solution

  • Require all THC products to carry prominent health warnings.

  • Initiate a statewide public awareness campaign about the risks associated with marijuana use.

  • Prohibit commercial THC providers from making claims about health benefits.

Parents See Marijuana as "Natural" and Harmless

The Journal of the American Heart Association published an editorial by Karen M. Wilson, a Colorado doctor and professor of pediatrics, in which she cited existing research about public perception of marijuana and referred to her own experience with marijuana users in Colorado:

Although most people know that secondhand tobacco smoke can be harmful, the perception is that marijuana smoking is less harmful to health, less addictive, and more socially acceptable than tobacco use. In fact, we have heard from parents here in Colorado that they have quit smoking tobacco and now only smoke marijuana because “it's natural.”

In her clinical experience, she adds, parents do not believe it's harmful to smoke marijuana around children.

Source: JAHA

Positive Perception at Southeastern Universities

A 2014 study surveyed students at two universities in the Southeastern US, asking them about their perceptions of cigarettes, cigar products, smokeless tobacco, hookah, electronic cigarettes, and marijuana. 

The study found that, of all those products, marijuana had the most positive perception overall, and was least commonly perceived as being harmful to health.  It was also the product that the most students had used within the past month.

The authors theorized that:

Given the increased acceptability of marijuana use as medicinal and the implementation of policies to legalize marijuana, the changing perceptions of marijuana and the increased prevalence of use most likely are iteratively influencing one another.

Teenagers Perceive Benefits, Not Risks

A small 2015 study looked at the attitudes of Northern California adolescents regarding cigarettes, e-cigarettes and marijuana. 


It found that the teenagers knew a great deal about the risks of cigarettes, but much less about the risks of e-cigarettes and marijuana.  They listed many benefits that they believed were associated with e-cigarettes and marijuana, but few related to cigarettes.

The study concluded that:

Adolescents have learned from multiple sources about risks of using cigarettes, but they receive much less and often incorrect information regarding marijuana and e-cigarettes, likely resulting in their positive and often ambivalent perceptions of marijuana and e-cigarettes.

Positive Messages Influence Marijuana Use

A 2016 study examined the attitudes of 768 California teenagers about marijuana.  It found that they saw marijuana as "more socially acceptable and less risky than cigarettes."  It also found that teenagers were more likely to use marijuana if they had friends who did, or if they saw positive messages about marijuana.

Tweets Are Overwhelmingly Pro-Marijuana

Researchers found 7.6 million marijuana-related tweets during a one-month period in 2014.  They then analyzed 7,000 random tweets from Twitter accounts that qualified as influential (775+ followers and a Klout score of at least 44). They found that 77% of those tweets were pro-marijuana - fifteen times more than the number of anti-marijuana tweets.  10% of the pro-marijuana tweets were made by people who said they were currently high.

Source: Outlook (Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine)

Legalization May Reduce Perceived Risk

A quarter of a million 8th, 10th and 12th-grade students were surveyed from 2010 to 2015.  The students came from all 50 US states.  A 2016 study used this data to compare students in Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana was legalized, to students in other states.  It found significant differences in Washington for 8th and 10th graders, but not for 12th graders.

The perceived harmfulness of marijuana decreased in both groups (states with and without legalized recreational marijuana), but substantially more in Washington.  Marijuana use decreased in states without legalization, but increased in Washington.

No significant differences were found for students in Colorado.  The study's author, epidemiologist Magdalena Cerda, commented, "There was a more robust commercialization effort around medical marijuana prior to recreational marijuana being legalized.  That might have contributed to the fact that even before marijuana was legalized, the use was already quite high and the perceived harm was quite low."

Source: JAMA, UPI

Beliefs of Young Adult Users in Colorado

Researchers conducted interviews with young adults in Colorado who currently used marijuana, tobacco and/or e-cigarettes.


Many interviewees did not recognize that the smoking of blunts (marijuana smoked in a tobacco-leaf wrapper) is a form of tobacco use. 


While the participants knew that secondhand tobacco smoke is harmful, "marijuana smoke was largely regarded as benign, neutral or even pleasant." 

Most Teens Think Regular Pot Use Is Harmless

Scientific American reports that, as of 2012, "only 44.1 percent of 12th graders believe regular marijuana use is harmful, the lowest level since 1973."  Though fewer teenagers are smoking tobacco, more are smoking pot.  In 2012, over one third of 12th graders smoked pot, and one in 15 used marijuana daily.

Public Perception
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