The number of Americans regularly using marijuana is on the upswing since 2002, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services in the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Nearly 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older – or 7.3 percent of that population – were "current" marijuana users in 2012, meaning they used the drug in the past month, the survey estimated. The number of daily or near-daily marijuana smokers was estimated at around 7.6 million.
Estimated user figures were calculated with self-reported information from 67,500 respondents.
The rate of current marijuana use was 7.0 percent in 2011, and 6.9 percent in 2010. Those rates are too close to the 2012 rate for the change to be statistically significant, according to the survey report. However, last year's rate was statistically higher than the eight years prior, from 2002 to 2009.
Some marijuana policy advocates downplayed the apparent – albeit non-statistically significant – increase in the drug's use.
"The survey found that overall past-month marijuana use increased by less than half of 1 [percent] from 2011 to 2012, and use by individuals aged 12-17 decreased by less than three-quarters of 1 [percent]," the Marijuana Policy Project noted in a press release.
"Today's survey reveals nothing new," said Dan Riffle, MPP federal policy director, in a statement. "Billions of dollars are being spent to enforce marijuana prohibition laws, yet they have utterly failed to reduce supply and demand. By keeping marijuana illegal, our government is simply handing over control of a lucrative market to violent drug cartels instead of legitimate taxpaying businesses."
The advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition echoed the sentiment in a statement provided to U.S. News.
"Every year, this survey comes out and the government once again affirms what we already know: arrests and incarceration are the wrong tools to deal with substance abuse," said Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland police officer and LEAP's executive director.
"If we really wanted to confront the drug problem, we'd invest in public health, not law enforcement," he added. "Unfortunately, treatment doesn't create profit for private prisons or result in seized assets for police departments, so the war on drugs, which is really a war on people, rages on."
Marijuana policy advocates were recently handed two major victories by the Obama administration amid increasing public support for drug reform.
The Department of Justice announced Aug. 29 it would not seek to block the opening of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado and Washington. Voters opted by large margins to legalize marijuana in those states in November 2012 and shops are slated to open early next year.
Federal prosecutors' anti-drug zeal was also curtailed earlier in August when Attorney General Eric Holder said he would instruct them to err against filing charges that bring mandatory-minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
Marijuana was by far the most used drug by the national survey's respondents. Past-month methamphetamine use dipped to .2 percent in 2012, hallucinogen use remained stable at .4 percent and cocaine use perked up to .6 percent.