Support For Marijuana Legalization Continues To Be High

One month before voters in several states head to the polls to vote on legalization referendums, a new poll shows that public support for legalization remains at record high levels.

Yet another poll shows that acceptance of legalized marijuana is becoming more and more prevalent among Americans, suggesting that the momentum we’ve seen on this issue is only likely to continue:

More than 6 in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center.

The survey found that 62 percent of Americans favor legalization, a figure that represents a steady increase in support in recent years.

Support jumped just 1 percent from 2017 but has doubled from the 31 percent of the nation that supported marijuana legalization in 2000, according to Pew.

Pew notes that support for legalizing marijuana splits along party lines. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats are in favor of legalizing the drug, while just 45 percent of Republicans back the idea. Fifty-one percent of Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana.

But the 45 percent of Republicans supporting marijuana’s legalization represents a 6-point increase since 2015, Pew noted.

The rising support for legalizing marijuana comes as more states are easing their laws on the drug. Recreational marijuana is currently legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in another 29.

States like Michigan, North Dakota and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November. Oklahoma residents voted to legalize medicinal marijuana in June.

Michigan and North Dakota voters will vote on whether the states should permit recreational use this November. Missouri and Utah voters will vote on whether the states can permit medical marijuana use.

In April, support for legalization reached 63 percent in in a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, the highest level of support recorded by the survey.

Support for medical marijuana reached 93 percent, according to the poll. Only about 5 percent of respondents opposed it.

This latest poll continues a trend that began at the beginning of the decade, has continued unimpeded for the past seven years, and which shows no signs of stopping or reversing itself any time soon. In 2011, for example, polling showed that support legalization had reached the 50% level, while even larger numbers supported legalization supported legalization for medical purposes or decriminalization. By 2013, the number of Americans supporting legalization had passed the 50% mark. That mark reached 55% in 2014 and 58% in 2015.  By this time last year, polling showed that support for legalization had reached 64% and a poll taken five months ago showed support at 63%. So, we’ve basically reached the point where two-thirds of the American public supports complete legalization and, according to this newest poll and other polls upwards of 90% of Americans support legalization of marijuana

As these poll numbers have increased, the movement toward liberalization of marijuana laws and outright legalization has moved steadily forward. It began to gain steam, of course, in 2010 when Colorado and Washington both passed citizen referenda legalizing cannabis. Four years later similar measures passed in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Most recently marijuana was legalized in 2016 in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine via citizen referenda and voters in a number of other states approved legalization for medicinal purposes. Even though we’re only four months in 2018 has seen several advances in this area. For example, January was the biggest month yet for the legalization movement given the fact that the most populated state in the nation, California, officially legalized marijuana based on the aforementioned 2016 referendum. This year, several states, including Michigan and North Dakota will be voting on full legalization in November and several other states will be voting on legalization for medical use. Additionally, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislature instead of a voter referendum. New Jersey stands likely to be the second state where that happens thanks to the election of a Democratic Governor who supports legalization a Democratic state legislature that spent eight years trying to liberalize drug laws in the Garden State only to be thwarted by the veto of former Governor Chris Christie. Governor Murphy has already taken steps to use his regulatory powers to expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program. Additionally, earlier this summer, in anticipation of the passage of a bill that would legalize marijuana by the state legislature, the New Jersey Attorney General announced that marijuana prosecutions would be put on hold.  On the national level, meanwhile, former Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced that he’s changed his mind on the issue of legalization and joined the board of a company that grows and sells cannabis in states where it is legal for either medical or recreational purposes. Finally, less than two weeks ago Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a bill that would give states freedom to set their own marijuana laws free from Federal control and to protect the citizens of those states from being charged with Federal crimes if they are acting in accordance with state law.

As this map from Wikipedia shows, nearly every state has liberalized its laws on marijuana in recent years:

What we’re looking at, clearly, is what seems to be an inexorable march toward what will effectively be the nationwide legalization of marijuana for all purposes, something that would have been unthinkable as recently as ten years ago but which now seems to be within reach. As it stands now, there are only four states — Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas — that continue to prohibit marijuana for any use. Even the relatively conservative areas of the Deep South, where one would expect the greatest opposition to the idea, one finds that, at the very least, marijuana is legal for medical use, although in some cases that is more tightly regulated in some states than in others. As I’ve said before, all of this mirrors the manner in which we’ve seen another recent change in social attitudes have an impact on the law:

[T]here are unmistakable similarities between the tend that we’ve seen in polling on this issue and the trend that we saw in the polling on the issue of marriage equality in the years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.In both cases, the change seems to be rooted in changes in society and culture that have recognized that previous attitudes were based on incomplete information or biases that had no basis in fact. In some sense, the change in public opinion on marijuana legalization has been even more radical than the changes we saw with respect to marriage equality in that it has occurred over a much shorter period of time. The noticeable difference, of course, is that this increase in support for legalization has not led to the same rapid changes in the law that we saw with the marriage equality issue. To a large degree, though, this is because most of the progress with regard to same-sex marriage was made via the Court system rather than the legislative process or citizen referendums. For many reasons, the court system is not well suited to deal with the marijuana legalization, though, and the efforts that have been made have been largely unsuccessful. For example, last year a group of Plaintiffs in New York attempted to get a Federal Court to declare the scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration invalid, but that effort was dismissed. Instead, the progress on marijuana legalization has had to take the slower route of using the legislative and political process to change the law. Those routes generally operate at a  much slower pace than the court system does, and often be blocked by a determined minority of voters. Despite this slower pace, though, the trend toward more liberal marijuana laws and eventually nationwide legalization, seems to be fairly clear. At this point, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

These latest developments are just another step down that road.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Not the IT Dept. says:

    The Pun Police would like to have a word with you.

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  2. James Pearce says:

    What we’re looking at, clearly, is what seems to be an inexorable march toward what will effectively be the nationwide legalization of marijuana for all purposes, something that would have been unthinkable as recently as ten years ago but which now seems to be within reach.

    While I hope that it is, in fact, an inexorable march, I also worry that it’s not. Elon Musk smoked a joint with Joe Rogan and it wasn’t “no big deal.” (It should have been.)

    I’m not letting my guard down, that’s for sure.

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  3. Tyrell says:

    I certainly support letting people have legal use if they need it for health reasons. As far as recreational use, I am not sure. I would not want someone locked up or get some sort of record for using it. It seems that in many states people are already growing tons of this stuff, so much that there has been concern about the electricity consumed to grow the high quality kind. Still it appears to be much safer than moonshine.

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  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Tyrell:

    A rare +1.

    Still it appears to be much safer than moonshine.

    For the most part it is. (Well, it’s definitely safer than moonshine. It’s mostly safer than alcohol.) Regarding physical health, so far smoking or eating cannabis–even smoking a lot of it!–seems to have no permanent effects. Short term (that is, while you are intoxicated) it definitely impairs your cognition. Regular users report a “haze” (ie, they are slightly stupider) that disappears once you quit. Long term, there isn’t any evidence (yet) of physical consequences. The ideas of (permanently) smoking yourself stupid, or that smoking one marijuana is equivalent to smoking a bajjillion packs of cigarettes so far seem to be hooey.

    That said, I think we will only understand the ramifications of long term cannabis use once it is legalized. We will certainly see many more people addicted to it. We will also likely discover it’s one of the easiest addictions to break, and the addiction with the least amount of societal ramifications.

    And we we will discover that a whole bunch of people don’t understand that driving while intoxicated is still bad, even if your intoxication is derived from a pot leaf instead of a hops leaf.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    @Tyrell:

    I certainly support letting people have legal use if they need it for health reasons. As far as recreational use, I am not sure.

    I just don’t get this stance. You’ve already accepted its medicinal qualities. What accounts for the reluctance on recreational use?

    It’s as if you’ve accepted a bowling league as a healthy way to treat a vet’s PTSD, but not as a way to spend a Wednesday night.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I think we will only understand the ramifications of long term cannabis use once it is legalized.

    Experiments on this subject have already been conducted.

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  7. Kathy says:

    I wonder whether drugs would be easier to control if they were legal. The fact that teens have little trouble obtaining alcohol argues against it. On the other hand, teens, and adults, have little trouble obtaining illegal drugs.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: By “legal” do you effectively uncontrolled except for age limits? Because opioids are legal and if that is our experiment it is pretty bleak.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I smoke weed every day. I can go on-line, check a menu, order and have it delivered with greater reliability than Domino’s.

    It plays hell with short-term memory while high. It also makes me a more pleasant and easy-going person. And crucially it allows me to stop working at the end of the day. I do not find myself smoking more and more, it is sort of self-limiting in a way that alcohol is not. You can only get so high and there is no fatal dose. It does not cause me to think, “well then, on to Oxy!” I don’t experience physical withdrawal symptoms at all. It also has the advantage of being zero calories, unlike Scotch or Bourbon.

    It has been obvious for decades that it should be legal, regulated and taxed. The fact that we ruined many lives, destroyed many families in a stupid effort to stop marijuana use is an atrocity.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    By legal I mean it’s not a crime to make them, sell them to adults, or when adults consume them.

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  11. Teve says:

    Anybody who has had problems with alcohol or knows people with alcohol problems knows that alcohol is 100x worse than pot for everyone involved. But the people making the laws were drinking alcohol and the blacks and hippies they wanted to hurt were smoking weed.

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  12. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:
    Yup, some studies. Not nearly as many as other schedule 1 drugs. One of the benefits of legalization is that it makes it way easier to study the plant. The studies I’ve read seem indicate a few things:
    1. Chronic use while the brain is developing is bad.
    2. Chronic use after the brain has developed seems to degrade white matter.
    3. Chronic use after the brain has developed seems to upgrade, to a degree, gray matter.
    4. It doesn’t cause cancer.

    #1-#3 warrants more research, IMO. At most, one can say scientists have started to scratch the surface.

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  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: There may well be a “fatal dose” level, but I’m told that intoxication is higher and faster so that one is less likely to smoke enough to kill themselves before passing out. It’s possible that other means of ingestion will allow us to stumble upon a toxic level, but so far the fatal dose debate is running against.

    I say “I’m told” in the above because I may be one of the only people on this thread who has never smoked weed. I took too many toxic and intoxicating drugs in treatment of my chronic asthma as a child in the 50s and 60s to see the utility of recreational pharma. I’ve always associated using drugs with being sick so they have limited appeal. On the other hand, I now live in a twin-cities small urban combine of about 55,000 people with about 40 pot shops, so I may go out for a brownie some day, I don’t know. As a late-in-life pipe smoker, I don’t know whether I would be able to get the hang of inhaling; I didn’t do well with it at the Hookah bar near Chungnam University, and joints are expensive enough that I wouldn’t want to waste the money.e

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  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: I researched this issue in graduate school and there was a lot of “we need to think about whether we want a bunch of rich Meskins around” in the discussions, too, but that was in an earlier time may have been limited to California.

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  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Since I live in Indiana where it is still illegal* let me preface everything with “So I’m told.”

    When/if you do decide to partake, understand that ingesting cannabis results in a much different experience than inhaling it. When you consume it, it doesn’t enter your blood stream (and hence cross the blood-brain barrier) until it passes through your liver. Your liver turns the THC into 11 Hydroxy THC, which is much, much more potent and lasts much, much longer. For this reason, eating it as your first experience can be ‘dangerous’ (that is, in danger of being unpleasant). It’s easy to ingest way too much without knowing it, and it will take hours for the bad high to dissipate. If you do go the ingesting route, start with a small gummy and wait a few hours before trying more.

    Most shops have now started stocking little vaporizer cartridges of THC oil, which you can inhale with the use of a special device. It gives you the same intoxicating effect as smoking the full plant, but without most of the lung irritation. However, because it’s isolated, concentrated THC, many of the healthful aspects of cannabis (CBD) is filtered out. It’s pot purely for recreation.

    So I’m told.

    *We put a first crack in that wall last year with CBD oil legalization, and forces are starting to come together to push for full medical legalization, which I expect to have a chance in 2020.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I say “I’m told” in the above because I may be one of the only people on this thread who has never smoked weed.

    Make that at least two. I’ve just never been interested in doing so.

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  17. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    #1-#3 warrants more research

    If scientists want to study that stuff, they should. But there’s enough uncollected field data on this subject to be able to say that some of the prevailing notions are, well, not true.

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  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    But there’s enough uncollected [sic] field data on this subject to be able to say that some of the prevailing notions are, well, not true.

    Sure. Since you haven’t defined what “prevailing notions” you’re talking about, I’m not sure how it is I could be arguing against them.

    If scientists want to study that stuff, they should.

    Agreed! I never said they shouldn’t. Indeed, I stated just a few comments above this that legalization will help with research.

    I’m not really understanding your point. It seems in both your replies you are trying to imply I’m wrong, without actually putting forth an argument as to how or why.

    (If I’m misreading the intent of your comments, I apologize.)

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  19. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce
    I agree that the health ramifications are minimal for the typical user, but that analogy is ridiculous.
    It is akin to recognizing the positive cognition effects of nicotine or the potential cardio benefits of alcohol while being opposed to recreational nicotine (gum or patches) or recreational use of alcohol. Most people do and the negative health consequences of over use of both of those outweigh the negative health consequences of marijuana by as much as an order of magnitude.

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  20. Grewgills says:

    @Neil Hudelson
    Edibles certainly take longer to come on* and the effects are markedly different. Edibles produce a much more ‘whole body’ high, rather than the more heady active high of a good sativa. A heavy dose of an edible and I’m not going anywhere. A strong dose of a good sativa and I’m ready to do something fun that doesn’t require operating heavy machinery.

    *digestive system to liver to bloodstream, with liver making chemical changes, rather than more or less straight to the bloodstream, as you stated

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  21. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Since you haven’t defined what “prevailing notions” you’re talking about, I’m not sure how it is I could be arguing against them.

    Prevailing notions like “Weed makes you stupid” or “Weed will ruin your life.”

    I’m just sick of hearing “we don’t know what it does” as a rationale for prohibition. We do know what it does. People have been smoking cannabis for thousands of years. The feds have only been lying about it since the 70s.

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  22. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    Prevailing notions like “Weed makes you stupid” or “Weed will ruin your life.”

    Ok. But I didn’t argue these prevailing notions.

    I’m just sick of hearing “we don’t know what it does” as a rationale for prohibition.

    I was pretty explicitly pro-legalization in my comments. I extolled the virtues legalization will have on research, and in responding to Tyrell’s concerns I pointed out that only with legalization will we have a fuller knowledge of the effects on society.

    We do know what it does. People have been smoking cannabis for thousands of years.

    I’m not really sure one follows the other. Native Americans smoked tobacco for the better part of a millennium, but we didn’t know the link to cancer until the last century or so.

    I argued that cannabis hasn’t been studied as much as other drugs. This is unarguably true. It doesn’t imply that cannabis is dangerous. It doesn’t imply that I want it prohibited. I work on legalization professionally, for f*ck’s sake.

    I argued that long term and longitudinal studies (although I didn’t use that term) are light. This is also unarguably true.

    I never once stated that because of these facts, we should continue prohibition.

    Again, I’m really not sure of the point you are trying to make in your replies.

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  23. Ratufa says:

    @James Pearce:

    We have a a lot of knowledge about the effects of pot.. We also have a lot of knowledge about the effects of tobacco and alcohol, both of which are, for good reasons, regulated by governments to some extent. While pot may not be as dangerous as booze or tobacco, there are still negative consequences to over-use, and there are public policy questions about the extent that pot, and the commercial sale and advertising of pot, should be regulated.

    Mark Kleiman has a good overview of some of those issues:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2016/11/america_is_legalizing_marijuana_wrong.html

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  24. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I’m really not sure of the point you are trying to make in your replies.

    My ultimate point is this: Just because weed has been illegal all these years doesn’t mean that people weren’t smoking it. The effects, on individuals and society, are not some mystery.

    Indeed, my reference to “uncollected field data” is a reference to stonerdom in general. Some of us have done daily field studies for years. We don’t need some clinical experiment to tell us what we already know.

    @Ratufa:

    negative consequences to over-use

    From your link:

    About half of those DND users—4 million people at any one time—self-report the symptoms of cannabis use disorder (the new diagnostic label for what used to be called “abuse” or “dependency”). That’s some combination of: (a) using more, and more often, than they want or intend to; (b) failing in attempts to cut back; (c) spending so much time stoned that it interferes with their other plans and responsibilities; and (d) coming into conflict with people they care about due to their cannabis use.

    It would seem that the negative consequences to most cannabis use -in a legal environment, that is- are about the same as you’d get from playing too many video games or being a workaholic.

    There are public policy concerns, but they should revolve around the regulation of legal cannabis, not prohibition.

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  25. JohnMcC says:

    @James Pearce: “The feds have only been lying about (marijuana) since the 70’s”.

    Actually, the lying got a good start back in the 1920s and 30s. Google the lovely person Harry Anslinger if you want to make yourself sick and angry at liars in government. It might make you feel like smoking one after you’ve gone though a couple of his more horrible lies.

    And there’s always “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth” and “Reefer Madness” – which should be shown in schools to warn about propaganda. Those were from ’37.

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  26. Neil Hudelson says:

    There are public policy concerns, but they should revolve around the regulation of legal cannabis, not prohibition.

    Which, again, is not something anyone on here has endorsed. Commenters are trying to have a discussion about public policy concerns, with no mention of prohibition, and you are replying to every comment with “MAKE IT LEGAL ARGLEBARGLE!”

    Why?

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  27. James Pearce says:

    @JohnMcC: You’re right. “Reefer Madness” goes back further than the 70s, but the 70s is when the drug war began in earnest.

    @Neil Hudelson:

    you are replying to every comment with “MAKE IT LEGAL ARGLEBARGLE!”

    You’re a fair dude, Neil. Read the thread again.

    My first comment to you: “Experiments on this subject have already been conducted.” It was a cheeky way of saying I’ve been smoking weed for twenty years.

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  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Thanks for the advice. I doubt that I would have gotten such good information from the stoners who run our local pot industry.

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  29. rachel says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It also makes me a more pleasant and easy-going person.

    My sister’s told me that she thinks this is why her children survived to adulthood.

    It’s not my drug of choice, but I don’t think it should be any more illegal than tobacco or alcohol.

    @Kathy: I’m another one. I want caffeine for my mood-altering substance.

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