The results of a recent marijuana legalization survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center was released on Tuesday, as millions were busily preparing tax returns. The numbers mostly reinforce existing studies by a variety of organizations that, while nuanced, reflect that the majority of Americans are in favor of legal marijuana, both for medical and recreational use.
As one might expect, more Americans support medical than recreational legalization. Support of marijuana legalization of any kind is significantly higher among younger people than those who are middle aged or the elderly. Overall, 53 percent of Americans favor full legalization, down a single point from last year’s Pew study. 41 percent of responses said their reason for supporting legalization was marijuana’s value as a medicine, versus the 36 percent who said their main justification was the fact that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes.
More Voters Favor Legalization
The report also revealed that the limited success of the marijuana legalization movement, illustrated by four states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational cannabis and 24 states allowing some form of legal medical use, is convincing more and more voters that legalization is a good thing.
As more Americans learn the reality of medical cannabis and people become educated, they become much more supportive of legalization efforts and ballot initiatives (the classic domino effect). It could also be argued that greater numbers of legal, open cannabis consumers also serve to de-stigmatize the herb, showing those around them that it is actually a medicine and doesn’t carry negative side effects, like lower IQ or mental illness.
Said Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group:
“The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform.”
Among those 18-34, 68 percent support legalization. This is 16 points higher than the second most supportive age group of 35-50 year olds. The Pew survey revealed that millennials also supportive marijuana legalization across party lines, meaning a 20-year-old Republican might be in favor of legalization, while a 58-year-old Democrat might oppose it. However, among Republicans as a group — regardless of age — only 39 percent support legalization. Although this sounds like a low number, it is the highest marijuana approval rating among Republicans since Pew began the survey in 1969.
Opponents Lack Logic
Opponents of legalization point toward their belief that it is both dangerous and addictive. Somewhat tellingly, and an excellent example of circular logic, 19 percent of those who oppose legalization say it is because marijuana is illegal.
However, even 54 percent of Republicans said that the federal government should not interfere with states that have legalized cannabis — along with 58 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Independents (an argument leading many political pundits to suggest that Hillary Clinton would be wise to support full legalization). Among outright opponents of legalization, even 38 percent said that the federal government should allow states to legalize and not interfere.
This post was originally published on April 15, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.