U.S.: New Gallup Poll Shows Record 58% Support For Marijuana Legalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana should be legal in the United States, with 58 percent now holding that opinion, equaling the highest-ever support in Gallup's 46-year trend.

Support for legalizing recreational cannabis has grown steadily among Americans over time, reports Jeffrey M. Jones at Gallup. When Gallup first asked the question, back in the heady hippy days of 1969, just 12 percent of Americans said they thought marijuana use should be legal, with little change in two early 1970s polls.

But by the late 70s, with tacit approval from the Carter White House, support had increased to about 25 percent, and held near that point through the mid-1990s. The percentage of Americans who favored making cannabis legal passed 30 percent by 2000, and topped 50 percent by 2009.

Support has vacillated over the past six years, but averaged 48 percent from 2010 through 2012, and has averaged above 56 percent since 2013.

The higher level of support comes as many states and localities are changing, or at least considering changing, their laws on cannabis. So far, four states -- Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska -- have made recreational marijuana use legal, along with the District of Columbia. Ohio voters are set next month to decide a ballot initiative that would do the same thing, albeit in a fashion which hands control of commercial growing to just 10 wealthy investors who are financing the campaign.

The topic has become an issue on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, and several candidates have expressed willingness to let states their own laws even though federal law prohibits marijuana for any purpose. One candidate, Bernie Sanders, who is going for the Democratic nomination, has said he would "probably" vote for legalization if given the chance.

“These days it’s not especially exciting to see yet another poll showing majority support for legalizing marijuana, but 58 percent is very strong share of the American people calling for change, and elected officials should listen," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "The constant stream of surveys showing public support for ending prohibition is why we’re seeing an increasing number of national politicians saying that it’s time to at least let states implement their own laws without federal interference.

"And we’re also seeing a growing number candidates endorsing legalization outright, which shows how mainstream this issue is now," Angell said. "As more states implement marijuana reforms and those laws continue to work as advertised, we’re likely to see even more public support, which should soon spur Congress to formally end the criminalization of cannabis under federal law." (Angell noted that Marijuana Majority doesn't endorse or oppose candidates for office.)

“It’s pretty clear which direction our nation is heading on this issue," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "The status quo has shifted.

"Marijuana prohibition has been a public policy disaster, and most Americans are ready to put it behind us and move on," Tvert said. "The effects of 80-plus years of anti-marijuana propaganda are slowly wearing off. Once people realize that marijuana is actually safer than alcohol, they tend to agree that adults should not be punished just for consuming it.

“People can see that legalizing and regulating marijuana is going quite well in states like Colorado and Washington," Tvert said. "They see the sky hasn’t fallen and that regulation works, and they want to take similar steps forward in their states. We will likely see at least a handful of states pass these laws over the next year or so."a

“The latest poll results point to the absurdity and even venality of persisting with harsh prohibitionist policies," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "No other law is enforced so harshly and pervasively yet deemed unnecessary by so many Americans.

"Spending billions of dollars and arresting 700,000 people annually for violating marijuana laws now represents not just foolish public policy but also an inappropriate and indecent use of police powers,” Nadelmann said.

Age and party identification continue to be two of the biggest predictors of Americans' opinions on marijuana legalization. Younger people, Democrats and independents are most likely to favor legalization, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.

Support among younger Americans 18-34 has grown from 20 percent in 1969 to 71 percent today. But even older folks are more likely to favor legal pot than comparable age groups in the past.

For example, 35 percent of senior citizens today (age 65 and older) favor legalization, compared with just 4 percent of senior citizens in 1969. Among all age groups, the increase in support has been proportionately greater over the last 15 years than it was between any of the earlier time periods, showing increasing momentum.

Newer generations of adults -- who are much more inclined to favor legal marijuana use -- are replacing older generations in the population, who were much less inclined to want weed legalized, according to Gallup.

Given the patterns of support by age, Gallup predicts the percentage of support for legalization will grow even more in the future. "These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal," according to Gallup.

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-11, 2015, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.