Pew: Majority Of Americans Now Favor Legalizing Marijuana

Apr 4, 2013
Originally published on April 4, 2013 8:20 pm

For the first time in four decades of polling, a majority of Americans support legalizing the use of marijuana.

A Pew poll released today found that 52 percent of those polled said marijuana should be legal. Forty-five percent said it should be illegal.

Pew reports:

"Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.

"The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds that young people are the most supportive of marijuana legalization. Fully 65% of Millennials –born since 1980 and now between 18 and 32 – favor legalizing the use of marijuana, up from just 36% in 2008. Yet there also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly Baby Boomers."

This isn't terribly surprising, of course. Back in October of 2011, we noted that in Gallup's poll, support for legalizing marijuana had reached 50 percent for the first time ever.

The Washington Post reports that a November Post-ABC News poll found "the public split 48 to 50 percent on" the issue. "And 51 percent of registered voters supported legalization in a December Quinnipiac University poll."

We'll leave you with an interesting graph showing support by generational group. Notice that support from boomers is the highest since the '70s.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. That's according to a new survey out today from the Pew Research Center. The study found that attitudes toward marijuana have changed dramatically in just the past few years. Not surprisingly, young people are driving that change. But there's also been significant movement among older generations.

Joining us to talk about the findings is Pew Research Center director Michael Dimock. Michael, welcome.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Hi, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So help us understand just how significant this shift is, that the majority of Americans now support legalizing the use of marijuana.

DIMOCK: Right. This is the first survey we've done where we've seen more than half. It's 52 percent. So not a big majority, but a majority of Americans saying they'd like to see marijuana legalized. That trajectory has been ticking upward for most of the past couple of decades, but really has taken a steeper turn in the past three or four years. The survey we did three years ago, in 2010, it was 41 percent. That's an 11-point gain in just three years.

CORNISH: One of the fascinating parts of the study is looking at the baby boom generation. They started out in the, I guess, '70s with some measure of support. Then is numbers shift. What happened there?

DIMOCK: Well, it is an interesting trend. You know, in the '70s when most of the baby boomers were themselves in their 20s, they were very much at the very front of thinking marijuana ought to be legalized, about half of the time. But as they got a bit older, their attitudes turned sharply against marijuana legalization. By 1990, when most boomers were in their 30s going into their 40s, they were pretty deeply against it, 17 percent at the time favorite legalizing marijuana. But now that they're in their 50s and 60s, their attitudes have shifted back to pretty much where they were back in the 1970s.

CORNISH: There's also been a shift across the board in terms of how people view the moral issues with marijuana. And what do you think is behind that?

DIMOCK: Well, you know, people are seeing marijuana legalized in a number of states. And people are clearly thinking about marijuana in a different way than they used to. Just seven years ago, we found half of Americans saying that using marijuana was morally wrong. That's fallen down to 32 percent just in the past seven years.

: But other attitudes about marijuana have also shifted. How risky people see marijuana has also declined. Surveys in the '70s found vast majorities, 60 percent, saying that using marijuana led to the use of hard drugs. This idea that it was a gateway drug. Now only a minority, 38 percent, hold that view.

CORNISH: At the same time, legalization of marijuana would likely lead to more people using it out in the open. And how do people really feel about that?

DIMOCK: You know, they're mixed. About a little more than half, 51 percent, told us they'd be uncomfortable if people were smoking marijuana around them. I don't think this is a sense that a lot of people are eager to see marijuana widely used. But they are questioning how risky it is, whether this is something the government should be involved with.

In fact, there is a great deal of skepticism about whether enforcing marijuana laws are really worth the cost. We're seeing somewhere around 70 or more percent, across party lines, saying that it's just not worth it.

CORNISH: And as you mentioned, states obviously are our passing legislation around this. We saw Colorado and Washington both passed measures for legalization. But is this a trend you expect will continue based on what you found in the survey?

DIMOCK: Well, public support for this idea is certainly growing. And often as it starts to become legalized and normalized, unless there are really clear negative consequences to that, that normalization can often increase the trend.

One interesting fact in here is that support for marijuana legalization is no higher in the states that have done it than in the states that haven't. It's as prevalent across all sectors of the country - north, south, east, west, urban, rural. Marijuana use and marijuana attitudes don't have a very geographical nature to them, which is kind of interesting.

CORNISH: Michael Dimock is director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Thank you so much for coming in.

, PEW RESEARCH CENTER FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE PRESS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.