Commentary: How many Mormons use marijuana, anyway?

(Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, File) In this May 5, 2015, file photo, a marijuana plant grows at a greenhouse in Otsego, Minn.

Utah voters will go the polls this fall to vote on Proposition 2, which, if passed, would legalize medical marijuana in the state. Public opinion polls show the measure to be popular with Utah voters, despite opposition from the state’s predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While formally opposing the ballot initiative, the church has stated that it “supports medicinal use of marijuana, so long as proper controls and safeguards are in place” — something the faith maintains Prop 2 lacks. It has asked the Utah Legislature to legalize medical marijuana through a compromise bill.

The church has also recently announced that the use of marijuana recreationally would violate the Word of Wisdom, the church’s health code, and thus disqualify a member from being able to hold a recommend to enter church temples.

Lost in much of the conversation about Prop 2 is how prevalent marijuana use is among Latter-day Saints. How might the legalization of medical marijuana affect Mormons’ likelihood to use it?

The 2016 Next Mormons Survey asked both current and former Mormons whether they had used marijuana sometime in the last six months. (See here for more about the survey’s sample size and methodology.)

At that time, about one in 10 (9.5 percent) of self-identified Mormons in the United States said “yes.” Those more likely to have used marijuana included:

  • Younger people (17 percent of millennials compared to 7 percent of GenXers and 4 percent of the combined baby boomer/silent generation).

  • Men (14 percent of men compared to 6 percent of women).

  • Poorer members (12 percent of those who earn less than $50,0000/year compared to 8 percent among those who earn over $100,000/year).

  • Those with less formal education (12 percent of those without a college degree compared to 6 percent of those who have earned a college degree).

  • Racial minorities (14 percent of nonwhite Latter-day Saints compared to 9 percent of white Latter-day Saints).

  • Those who are less active in the church. Only about 7 percent of those who attend church at least once a month said that they had used it in the past six months compared to one in five (20 percent) of those who attend only sporadically or never.

Further analysis shows that the legal status of marijuana in the state where the respondent lived in 2016 made almost no difference. About 11 percent of those who lived in states where it was either medically or recreationally legal in 2016 said that they had used marijuana recently, compared to 9 percent in the states where it was illegal, a statistically insignificant difference.

This pattern did not change much even among frequent church attenders, where usage was 8 percent in recreational states, 9 percent in medical states, and 7 percent in illegal states. This noneffect held even after statistically controlling for other demographic factors. Frequency of church attendance emerged as the single strongest predictor of marijuana use when controlling for these factors, regardless of marijuana’s legality in the state where the survey respondent lived.

For their part, roughly one in five people (18 percent) who self-identified as a former Mormon in our survey report that they’ve used marijuana in the past six months. This figure remains constant regardless of whether they live in a state where it’s legal (either recreationally or medically) or illegal.

Overall, the legal status of marijuana does not seem to affect whether American Latter-day Saints and former Mormons choose to use it. Usage rates are about the same whether they live in states where it is legal (whether for recreational or medical reasons) or illegal.

Thus, whatever Utah voters or the state lawmakers choose to do regarding Prop 2 and medical marijuana, it will likely not drastically affect usage rates among Utah Latter-day Saints.

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