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Public Opinion: Poll Finds Support for Marijuana Legalization Still Rising, Medical Marijuana Overwhelming

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #626)
Politics & Advocacy

A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has found that nearly three out of four Americans (73%) support legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, while fewer than one out of four (23%) oppose it. Support is broad and solid, spanning all major political and demographic groups, and is equally high in states that do and do not already have medical marijuana laws.

The poll comes with 14 states and the District of Colombia, representing about one-fourth of the US population, already having approved medical marijuana. Several other states, including New York, South Dakota, and Wisconsin could join the list this year, and medical marijuana has been an active issue in another dozen or so state legislatures this year.

The poll identified concerns about medical marijuana. Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they would be "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" if a medical marijuana dispensary opened in a local retail district, and about the same number (46%) said that allowing medical marijuana made it easier for people to obtain marijuana even if they didn't have a legitimate need. But only 26% said that bothered them. Not surprisingly, opponents of medical marijuana legalization were most likely to cite such concerns.

When it comes to general marijuana legalization, support is much lower than for medical marijuana and is still a minority position. The Pew poll found that 41% or respondents supported legalization, while 52% opposed it. The good news is that figure is the highest since Pew started polling on the question in 1969 and it continues a steady upward climb in the past two decades.

After support for legalization peaked at 30% in 1978, then bottomed out at 16% in 1990, support grew steadily, surpassing the 1978 level in 2000 (31%), and reaching 38% in 2008. It has grown by three percentage points in the last two years. The Pew numbers are similar to a Gallup Survey conducted last October that showed 44% support for legalization.

Unfortunately, the Pew poll does not contain a regional breakdown of support. In California, an initiative has already made the ballot; in Oregon and Washington initiatives are still in the signature-gathering stage.

The polling reveals significant demographic divides. A majority of under-30s (58%) support legalization, while support declining steadily with age. For those 30 to 49, support was at 42%, for 50 to 64, 40%, and for those 65 and older, support dropped dramatically to 22%.

There are differences between the sexes. Men are almost evenly divided on the question (45% yes, 47% no), while 57% of women oppose legalization.

An even higher percentage of Republicans (71%) oppose legalization, while Democrats are evenly divided, and liberal Democrats show majority support (57%) for legalization. Among independents, 49% support legalization. Among both Democrats and independents, support has increased dramatically in the past decade. Ten years ago, only 29% of Democrats and 35% of independents supported legalization.

The poll found that 40% of respondents had tried marijuana, and that people who had tried marijuana were much more likely (64%) to support legalization, than those who had not (25%).

Bottom line: We're not quite there yet nationally, but the trend line points to national majority support for general marijuana legalization within a decade.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Fireweed (not verified)

In reply to by Robert Goodman (not verified)

I didn't even know what marijuana was until I was 13 and then I came across a magazine article on it, and read between the scare-hype and saw that it didn't have any of the concrete observable effects of other drugs as compared side by side in the article.

I grew up during the initial phase of the hyped up drug war, having health education taught to me by an 80 year old nun that told us that "marijuana leads to *lust." That was the initial phase.

during the 70's the attitude eased up a bit towards marijuana. Everybody my age it seemed smoked. At parties, even the "good" kids, the straight A students, would take a hit off of what was passed around, seemingly just because it was the social norm. Nobody seemed to have a problem with it. There were no reports of increased car accidents, No jump in emergency room visits. No people running insane down the streets.... Jimmy Carter was in office and the Schaeffer commission had put out their recommendations in favor of legalizing marijuana. By 1978 everyone was sure that pot would be soon legalized......

.....Then came Reagan. I can clearly remember when seemingly out of nowhere Nancy Reagan started her misty-eyed simplistic "Just Say No" campaign, The population bulge that is the Baby Boomers were just entering the serious phase of adulthood, career and parenting which went against the grain of the marijuana movement. The attitude changed, largely because of the newly energized Drug War and all the publicity that went with it. There got to be fewer and fewer people for us remaining potheads to commiserate with, but I always seemed to find people. It looked like the marijuana movement was dead, or at least in critical condition.

Enter the 90's and Clinton came into power. A new generation was just starting to hit college and the internet also opened doors for people to speak their minds about prohibition without fear of sanctions. Medical marijuana was beginning to be discussed more and more. (Interestingly enough, in 1981 I was in nursing school and went to a symposium on cancer treatments and a nurse in the audience spoke up about her observations about using marijuana in cancer treatment, saying that "nothing works like Delta 9 THC" in treating side effects of cancer especially nausea.

Bush administration saw a return to the "conservative" politics (interesting how conservatives seem to believe that government should stay out of people's business except when it comes to what substance you smoke.)

Again, with the anticipation of Obama, and people everywhere seeking a relief from the Bush nightmare, hopes for progress were renewed when Obama made allusions to the effect that marijuana laws at least need to be revisited and called a halt to DEA interference with dispensaries operating legally under state law. But now, perhaps because of so much pressure coming from the right on so many issued, the issue seems to be moving back to the right. Which sucks.

So for whatever reason, cannabis seems to be a political volley ball. There must be some great power in letting the public use marijuana or not, for it to be so important.

Sat, 04/03/2010 - 10:19am Permalink
McD (not verified)

In reply to by Fireweed (not verified)

"There must be some great power in letting the public use marijuana or not, for it to be so important."

There is: you need to know that you are not free. You must understand that, as a slave, your desire to do what you would like to do, rather than what is best for those who employ you, must always be subjugated. That's it. Prohibition is simply an extension of slavery.

Sun, 04/04/2010 - 7:39am Permalink

When all of the Gaiatherapeutic effects of Cannabis agriculture are finally assessed and reported, then people will come to understand how important it is to end prohibition of so-called "industrial" hemp. One of the major motives for marijuana prohibition was economic competition from industrial hemp, and remains so today. Help me to end hemp prohibition in California this Spring, and marijuana prohibition will fall -- hard -- as the true value of the plant is proportionately appreciated, and the incomprehensible magnitude of traitorous deception is revealed.

"Hemp is Our Legacy" week, May 17th to 23rd, Sacramento, California Republic

Failing to recognize the "strategic" of hemp as critical to national security, as six American Presidents have done, is a "misprision of treason" against the American people. Will MonsantObama do the right thing?

Oh, come on.. How many times does Barack have to do Dubya before you figure out whose team they're on?

sIn the meantime, but heirloom seeds, support alternative local currency development in your region, and actively appreciate the wild places where your drinking water comes from.

Time is the limiting factor in the equation of survival.
We don't have yet another planting season to waste.


Fri, 04/02/2010 - 9:37pm Permalink
http://cannabi… (not verified)

You know Obama could make all this real simple and it's about time he did something that US citizens would like to see him do and that's to legalize MEDICAL MARIJUANA on the federal level! He's already said he agrees with it! His problem is, he's got no stones to do the right thing for sick people! What the heck are you waiting for??????????????????? Maybe he doesn't want to get re-elected. Somebody will get the stones it takes to do the right thing, someday after I'm dead. I happen to be a sick person who wishes someone would do something, NOW!

Sun, 04/04/2010 - 5:47am Permalink
phillip86 (not verified)

i live in texas where it is not legal like cal. i have had hiv since i was seventeen.... the docters told me i would never get my numbers up in time too keep from turnin to aids . . . but marijuana help me stay eating sleepin right and deal with the stress of life . . . they would be helping alot of people makin it legal and help out our dept tooo . . . .

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 10:08pm Permalink


It's certainly high time that the hemp plant in all its glories (spiritual, medical, recreational, environmental, industrial, et cetera) got the growth it deserves (pun extended for your delight or neglect as you see fit) . . .

. . . and maybe it soon will with <<a href="">Future Hemp</a> and the <a href="">Hemp Network</a>.

Tue, 09/21/2010 - 4:58am Permalink

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