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Study: US College Students Prefer Marijuana to Tobacco

FILE - A man is seen smoking marijuana prior to last year's Super Bowl. A new study says college students are choosing marijuana over tobacco.

American college students are using marijuana more than tobacco for the first time.

Surveys on marijuana use among college students show that 5.9 percent use it nearly every day, or at least 20 times in the past 30 days. It’s the highest rate since 1980, up from 3.5 percent in 2007. Only 5 percent of college students reported using tobacco daily.

Not only is frequent use of marijuana up, but students are also experimenting more with the drug.

Twenty-one percent of college students reported having used marijuana once or more in the previous 30 days, up from 17 percent in 2006. Those reporting having used marijuana in the past year was 34 percent, up from 30 percent in 2006.

However, the levels appear to have leveled off since 2014, said researchers with the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study which conducted the surveys.

"It's clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation's college students," said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study in a statement. "And this largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors."

Less Dangerous Than Tobacco

Johnston said the main driver for the increased use of marijuana is the perception that it is not as dangerous as tobacco.

In 2006, 55 percent of 19- to 22-year-old high school graduates said regular use of marijuana was dangerous. That number plummeted to 35 percent in 2014.

“There has been a substantial drop in the number who see it as dangerous to be a heavy pot user,” Johnston said, adding that this perception is probably a result of increased legalization efforts for both medical and recreational marijuana use. It is now legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes in four U.S. states and three U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C. Twelve other states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

But Johnston did not think increased marijuana use is due to increased availability from states where it is legal for either medical or recreational use.

“It’s not clear to me that availability is a driving force,” he said. “At least not yet.”