Cannabis policy reform seems to be sweeping across the United States, as Alaska and Oregon have recently joined Colorado and Washington as states in which voters approved measures to legalize the recreational use and retail sale of marijuana. There are also efforts mobilizing in many other states to place legalization initiatives on the 2016 ballot. While all of this is happening, many people have been left questioning whether legalization will encourage marijuana use, especially in young Americans.
According to the 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project, legalization does not encourage marijuana use. Nearly nine out of ten participants (88%) who have not used marijuana recently responded that they are not likely to change behavior if it is legalized. This means that legalization is not a driving factor in a young American’s decision to use marijuana.
The Harvard Public Opinion Project has been collecting information and tracking participants’ views toward politics and public service since the year 2000. All participants are between the ages of 18 and 29. Inspired by the recent politics, the project’s 14th year contained more questions about marijuana than ever before.
Only 10 percent of the survey participants reported having used cannabis recently. The wording categorized recently as “within the last few months.” Of those respondents, 88 percent support legalizing marijuana on a federal level. Even 37 percent of participants who have not used cannabis recently still support legalization. A sizable amount of respondents who have not used marijuana recently, 23 percent, were still on the fence or unsure about legalization.
Outside of this Harvard study, Gallup has acquired similar information about marijuana legalization support from voters of all ages. The graph below shows the evolution of marijuana legalization support from 1969, when support was only at about 12% through 2013, where support is up to 58%.
According to the Harvard study, the percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who support legalizing marijuana is lower than the national average. When each participant of the 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project was asked whether “they support, oppose or are unsure about legalizing marijuana,” regardless of preference to use, 44 percent responded in support, which is 14 percent less than the national average according to the Gallup poll. Of that, 23 percent reported strongly supporting legalization. The percent of participants on the fence about marijuana legalization, regardless of preference to use, 22 percent reported being unsure or on the fence.
Although some of America’s youth may not yet have formed an opinion about legalization, one thing they are sure about is that whether or not the plant is legalized will not make a difference in the choice to use it.