By Gene Balk
It’s probably not a good idea — and it can’t be great for productivity — but that’s not stopping a lot of Washingtonians from doing it.
I’m talking about getting high at work.
One in four marijuana users who are employed admit to doing this within the past year, according to a new survey of cannabis consumers in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, three states where recreational weed is legal.
One in four also said they’ve gotten high before work — I’m guessing it’s the same one in four, but the survey doesn’t specify.
The marketing communications firm Quinn Thomas, which has offices in Seattle and Portland, funded the survey, which was conducted by polling-and-opinion outfit DHM Research. A representative sample of 900 cannabis consumers were interviewed — 300 in each of the three states — from Jan. 8 to 14. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.
“There is a lot of information out there about the cannabis industry and its regulatory structure, but not much is known about consumers,” said Zach Knowling, vice president at Quinn Thomas, in an email. “We felt our experience researching and reaching unique audiences could build greater understanding of who they are.”
Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational use of marijuana through voter initiatives in 2012, becoming the first states to do so. Oregon followed in 2014.
The survey shows that after legalization, many cannabis consumers increased their usage. In Washington 44 percent of respondents said they are now regular consumers of pot (daily or a few times per week), compared with 36 percent who said they consumed that much prelegalization.
With legalization, it seems that marijuana has entered into the mainstream. Indeed, the survey data show that recreational-cannabis consumers look pretty much like the average American. They are a close match to the U.S. average for household income and educational attainment. In the three states that were surveyed, pot users match the general population breakdowns in terms of race and ethnicity, age, political-party affiliation and other demographic factors.
There is one significant exception: Gender. Cannabis consumers skew male by about 60 percent, according to the survey.
Even though marijuana is legal and widely popular in the three states surveyed, the great majority of users (79 percent) still feel there is some lingering social stigma attached to it. Only about half say they are completely transparent with family and friends about their use of the drug.
Even if folks feel some social stigma still exists, a lot of marijuana users aren’t exactly secretive about it — at least that’s true in Seattle, where the passing smell of pot smoke has become one of the defining characteristics of city sidewalks. While the great majority of those surveyed said that home is the primary place they consume cannabis, more than one in six said they typically get stoned away from home.
Survey respondents expressed a need for accurate information regarding safety and health of cannabis use, and just about half (49 percent) said they trusted their local retailer for that. In comparison, only 38 percent said they trust their health-care provider.
“Staff at dispensaries are the most trusted source of information about cannabis, well above doctors and public health officials. That surprised us,” Knowling said. “There’s an opportunity for state officials and health care experts to increase their role, particularly because consumers told us they want more information.”
Smoking is the most popular method of cannabis consumption — a little more than half said that’s how they usually use it. Only 18 percent typically consume edibles, which ranks second, followed by vaping and topicals (oils or creams), in that order.
A large percentage of consumers surveyed reported a modest household income, so it’s not surprising that 62 percent pointed to price as one of the two most important factors when purchasing marijuana (THC potency came in second, at 45 percent). Still, consumers overwhelmingly said they want the retail experience of buying pot to be more like going to a nice wine shop than to a convenience store for a six-pack.
Speaking of alcohol, nearly a quarter of survey respondents said the reason they use cannabis is as an alternative to liquor. But the two most common reasons selected for pot use are reducing stress and anxiety, and reducing pain.
One remarkable finding of the survey is that lower-income folks spend the most on marijuana. One quarter of consumers with a household income of less than $25,000 spent more than $500 in a year. As you go higher up the income ladder, the likelihood of spending that much money on pot gets progressively lower. In light of that finding, Washington’s 37 percent sales-tax rate on marijuana seems particularly burdensome to people with lower incomes.
While the survey shows that getting stoned at work is a fairly commonplace activity, so is drug testing. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they’ve been subjected to a drug test that checked for cannabis within the past year. And just about the same number said they stopped getting high for a while in order to pass the test.
It worked for most. Nine percent indicated that they still failed the test.