PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's October Crime poll finds 44% of Americans in favor of making marijuana legal and 54% opposed. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25% range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31% in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade.
"The highest level of support for decriminalizing the use of marijuana today is seen with self-described liberals, among whom 78% are in favor."
Public opinion is virtually the same on a question that relates to a public policy debate brewing in California -- whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed as a way of raising revenue for state governments. Just over 4 in 10 Americans (42%) say they would favor this in their own state; 56% are opposed. Support is markedly higher among residents of the West -- where an outright majority favor the proposal -- than in the South and Midwest. The views of Eastern residents fall about in the middle.
The new findings come as the U.S. Justice Department has reportedly decided to loosen its enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws by not pursuing individuals who buy or sell small amounts of the drug in conformity with their own states' medical marijuana laws. This seems likely to meet with U.S. public approval, as previous Gallup polling has found Americans generally sympathetic to legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. In 2003, 75% of Americans favored allowing doctors to legally prescribe marijuana to patients in order to reduce pain and suffering.
Basic Support for Legalization Highest Among Liberals
The highest level of support for decriminalizing the use of marijuana today is seen with self-described liberals, among whom 78% are in favor. In contrast, 72% of conservatives are opposed. Moderates are about evenly divided on whether the use of marijuana should be legal, although they tilt against it (51% vs. 46%).
Somewhat milder differences are seen according to political party, mainly because of the tempered support of Democrats relative to that of liberals. However, a solid 70% of Republicans -- similar to the rate seen among conservatives -- are opposed.
Gallup also finds a generational rift on the issue, as 50% of those under 50 and 45% of those 50 to 64 say it should be legal, compared with 28% of seniors.
Basic Support Swells Among Certain Groups
Most of the expansion in support for legalizing marijuana since Gallup last measured this in 2005 is seen among women, younger Americans, Democrats, moderates, and liberals. By comparison, there has been little change in the views of men, seniors, Republicans, independents, and conservatives. Regionally, support has grown the most in the West and Midwest.
Public mores on legalization of marijuana have been changing this decade, and are now at their most tolerant in at least 40 years. If public support were to continue growing at a rate of 1% to 2% per year, as it has since 2000, the majority of Americans could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four years.
Americans are no more -- and no less -- in favor of legalizing marijuana when the issue is framed as a revenue-enhancement tool for state governments. Regardless of how the question is asked, 53% of Americans living in the West -- encompassing California, where the issue could be on the ballot in 2010 -- support legalization.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 1-4, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.