Hiding casual use, even from the most important people in your life, is still a thing many cannabis users do even as America transitions out of the prohibition era.
In our inaugural Civilized Cannabis Culture Poll, a survey of 1,050 Americans conducted by Environics Research Group, 379 respondents self-identified as marijuana users. When asked about their willingness to come out of the "cannabis closet", 73 percent said they still feel the need to hide their use from some people in their life, whether they're children, friends, or coworkers.
We'll talk about how, and why, people hide their use from kids, parents, friends and co-workers in subsequent stories about the poll results. For now, we're zeroing in on one especially interesting finding. Many cannabis consumers don't share their love of the plant with their spouse. Thirty percent of those surveyed said they don't tell their partner when they smoke pot.
While a relatively smaller percentage of women - 17 percent - said they surreptitiously smoke or vape on the sly, 23 percent of men said they preferred to keep it on the down-low from their romantic partner. The majority of surreptitious marijuana users appear to be young and middle-aged men: between 25 and 30 percent of respondents aged 25-44 reported they prefer to hide it.
People hide cannabis use from spouses
Keith Stroup, a Washington-based attorney who founded NORML in 1970, says it's understandable that so many people are still afraid to be open about their cannabis use. People can be fired, under federal laws, even if they live in legal states. "They cannot come out of the closet," he says. "They risk losing their jobs."
However, Stroup was puzzled by the idea that so many men would hide their cannabis use from their partners. His wife doesn't smoke marijuana, but she doesn't have any problem with it. He can freely enjoy his nightly ritual of coming home from work, pouring a glass of wine, rolling a joint and watching the news. "I don't have to hide it," he says.
But he thought about it for a minute, and relayed a story about growing up on a farm in a Southern Baptist household – very traditional, he says. On Saturdays, his father would take him on errands around town, and he kept a whisky bottle under the car seat. He'd take little drinks, and say to his son, "Now, don't you tell your mother!"
So maybe these men and women, he says, have the same kind of "hedonist" impulse to consume, but the attendant need to hide it to avoid "interpersonal problems" with their partners.
Richer people hide it more
Even more interesting is how household income affected people's willingness to come clean. While only 7.5 percent of people making up to $25,000 a year hid their cannabis use from their significant other; that number soared to 34 percent in households that were making more than $75,000 a year. In short: the richer you are, the more likely you are to hide your cannabis use from your spouse.
The findings make sense, given that people in high-paying positions are more likely to feel pressure to keep up appearances, especially to spouses they feel might disapprove of their casual herb habit.
Seniors don't care what people think
The good news is that once retirement hits, it seems more people feel free to come out of the closet - only one retired respondent said they hid it from their spouse or partner. There was a massive drop-off in the amount of people who hid their use after the age of 45, in general, with only between six and seven percent of respondents taking pains to conceal their use.
Still, Stroup understands why younger people – male or female – would hide cannabis use from a partner with a "more restrictive view." He can see why this would cause problems in a relationship, though he thinks people will soon drop the negative stigma that comes with marijuana use. "But we're not there yet," he says, which explains why nearly 75 percent of people still conceal their cannabis use from at least some people in their lives.
It seems that the wisdom of embracing your enthusiasms - as with most things in life - comes with age and experience.