The Pew Research Center has been polling Americans for over 40 years. For the first time ever, Pew found that a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Pew’s most recent poll reveals that American adults favor marijuana legalization by a 52% to 45% margin. As recently as one decade ago, only one-third of American adults favored legalization.
The poll reflects recent legislative measures in which voters in Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana in their states, while 24 other states have either decriminalized marijuana or made it legal for medical use.
Two statistics from the poll provide strong insight on why Americans are changing their minds on the issue. For starters, most Americans no longer see marijuana as a moral issue. Only one third of respondents now believe cannabis use is morally wrong, while in 2006 over half of Americans believed so.
Second, Americans now overwhelmingly believe the cost of marijuana prohibition is far more expensive than it’s worth. 72% of participants agreed with this statement in Pew’s poll, while only 23% disagreed with it. It is estimated that the United States spends $10.7 billion annually on marijuana arrests and prosecutions. Additionally, two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should not enforce anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug.
Not surprisingly, younger Americans support legalization more than elder Americans, although support for cannabis legalization is increasing across all age groups.
Opinions on marijuana were remarkably consistent across state borders. With most social issues, coastal states report more liberal views while inland and southern states report more conservative views. Interestingly, Pew’s poll revealed virtually identical levels of support in all regions of the country.
48% of participants said they have used marijuana at some point in their life, up from 38% a decade ago. People who have used cannabis were much more likely to support legalization than those who had not.
Not surprisingly, marijuana activists were excited about the news.
“I've always tended to be cautious in claiming that we've hit the 'tipping point' on marijuana legalization," said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But we're there now,” he added.
Steve Fox, political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, thinks legislators across the nation should pay attention to the results of the poll.
“These results do not just represent a tipping point," Fox said. "With support for legalization among people under the age of 50 at close to 60 percent, this is more like the tip of the iceberg. Elected officials across the country need to listen to the people."
While Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, ten more states are currently considering legislation to do the same. The era of Reefer Madness has passed in America, and citizens are calling for a more rational drug policy as a result. The estimated $30 billion in extra tax revenues the nation would receive from legalizing cannabis wouldn’t hurt, either.
The Pew survey was conducted from March 13-17, and included 1,501 American adults. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.