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Indicator 15: Marijuana Use and Illegal Drug Availability
(Last Updated: April 2019)

The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property in the last 12 months decreased from 29 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2017.

This indicator uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to examine the percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported they had used marijuana during the previous 30 days. It then examines the percentage of students who reported they had been offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey. Readers should take note of the differing time spans and locations. While marijuana use on school property was not asked in more recent versions of the YRBS, students’ overall use can be important to know within a school context. For example, marijuana use has been associated with decreased academic performance in adolescence (Meier et al. 2015; Pardini et al. 2015) and a higher risk of dropping out of high school (Bray et al. 2000).

In 2017, about 20 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days. This was lower than the percentage reported in 2001 (24 percent) but not measurably different from the percentage reported in 2015 (figure 15.1 and table 15.1). Specifically, in 2017 about 7 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported using marijuana 1 or 2 times during the previous 30 days, 9 percent reported using marijuana 3 to 39 times during the previous 30 days, and 4 percent reported using marijuana 40 or more times during the previous 30 days (table 15.2).


Figure 15.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using marijuana at least one time during the previous 30 days, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 15.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using marijuana at least one time during the previous 30 days, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2001 through 2017.


In every survey year between 2001 and 2011, the percentages of students in grades 9–12 reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days were higher for male students than for female students (figure 15.1 and table 15.1). Since 2013, there has been no measurable difference in the percentages of males and females that reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days. In 2017, a higher percentage of males (5 percent) than of females (3 percent) reported using marijuana 40 or more times during the previous 30 days (table 15.2).

In 2017, some differences in the percentages of students who reported marijuana use were observed by race/ethnicity and grade level. The percentage of Asian students (7 percent) who reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days was lower than the percentages reported by Pacific Islander students (16 percent), White students (18 percent), students of Two or more races (20 percent), Hispanic students (23 percent), Black students (25 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native students (30 percent; table 15.1). The percentage for White students was also lower than the percentages for Hispanic and Black students. In addition, the percentage of 9th-graders (13 percent) who reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days was lower than the percentages of 10th-graders (19 percent), 11th-graders (23 percent), and 12th-graders (26 percent) who reported doing so. The percentage for 10th-graders was also lower than the percentages for 11th- and 12th-graders.

Since 2015, the YRBS has included a question to identify students’ sexual orientation by asking students in grades 9–12 which of the following best described them—“heterosexual (straight),” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “not sure.”70 In 2017, a higher percentage of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students (31 percent) than of heterosexual students and students who were not sure about their sexual orientation (19 percent each) reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days (figure 15.2 and table 15.1). Additionally, a higher percentage of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students reported using marijuana 1 to 2 times and 3 to 39 times, compared to heterosexual students and students who were not sure about their sexual orientation (table 15.2). A higher percentage of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students than heterosexual students reported using marijuana 40 or more times.


Figure 15.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using marijuana at least one time during the previous 30 days, by number of times and sexual orientation: 2017

Figure 15.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported using marijuana at least one time during the previous 30 days, by number of times and sexual orientation: 2017

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Students were asked which sexual orientation—“heterosexual (straight),” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “not sure”—best described them.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2017.


In 2017, state-level data for students who reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days were available for 39 states and the District of Columbia (table 15.3).71 Among these jurisdictions, the percentages of students who reported using marijuana ranged from 8 percent in Utah to 33 percent in the District of Columbia.

In the YRBS, students in grades 9–12 were asked whether someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey.72 The percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property decreased from 29 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2017 (figure 15.3 and table 15.4). However, no measurable differences were found between the percentages in 2015 and 2017.


Figure 15.3. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property during the previous 12 months, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

Figure 15.3. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property during the previous 12 months, by sex: Selected years, 2001 through 2017

NOTE: “On school property” was not defined for survey respondents.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2001 through 2017.


In 2017, there was no measurable difference in the percentage of males and females who reported that illegal drugs were offered, sold, or given to them on school property. In contrast, in every survey year from 2001 to 2015, a higher percentage of male than of female students reported that illegal drugs were offered, sold, or given to them on school property.

In 2017, a higher percentage of Hispanic students (25 percent) than of students of Two or more races (19 percent), Black students (19 percent), White students (18 percent), Asian students (18 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native students (17 percent) reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property (figure 15.4). The percentage of students who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property was lower in 2017 than in 2001 for students from all racial/ethnic groups, with the exception of Black students for whom there was no measurable change over time. Although these longer-term changes were observed, no measurable differences were found between the 2015 and 2017 percentages for students of any racial/ethnic groups (table 15.4).


Figure 15.4. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property during the previous 12 months, by race/ethnicity: 2001 and 2017

Figure 15.4. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property during the previous 12 months, by race/ethnicity: 2001 and 2017

NOTE: “On school property” was not defined for survey respondents. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2001 and 2017.


In 2017, public school students’ reports of the availability of illegal drugs on school property varied across the 34 states for which data were available (table 15.5). Among these states, the percentages of students reporting that illegal drugs were offered, sold, or given to them on school property ranged from 12 percent in North Dakota to 31 percent in Arkansas.


This indicator has been updated to include 2017 data on marijuana use anywhere and it has been expanded to include data on illegal drug availability on school property. For more information: Tables 15.1, 15.2, 15.3, 15.4, and 15.5, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf)


70 In this indicator, students who identified as “gay or lesbian” or “bisexual” are discussed together as the “gay, lesbian, or bisexual” group. Although there are likely to be differences among students who identify with each of these orientations, small sample sizes preclude analysis for each of these groups separately. Students were not asked whether they identified as transgender on the YRBS.
71 U.S. total data are representative of all public and private school students in grades 9–12 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. U.S. total data were collected through a separate national survey rather than being aggregated from state-level data.
72 On school property” was not defined for survey respondents.