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Most in U.S. Say Consuming Alcohol, Marijuana Morally OK

Most in U.S. Say Consuming Alcohol, Marijuana Morally OK

Story Highlights

  • 78% say drinking alcohol is morally acceptable
  • 65% say smoking marijuana is morally acceptable
  • Religiosity is a major factor in determining attitudes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Large majorities of Americans believe that using substances like alcohol and marijuana are morally permissible. Specifically, 78% say drinking alcohol is morally acceptable and 65% say smoking marijuana is.

Americans' Views of the Morality of Drinking Alcohol and SMoking Marijuana.

Attitudes about the morality of alcohol and marijuana items were measured for the first time in Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, conducted May 1-10. The survey asked Americans to indicate whether they believe each of 22 different behaviors and practices are morally acceptable or morally wrong.

Alcohol and marijuana rank near the top of the list of practices Americans consider morally acceptable. Only birth control, at 91%, gets a higher percentage sanctioning it than drinking alcohol does. Smoking marijuana trails birth control, drinking alcohol and divorce (76%), but is on par with widely accepted acts including gambling, sex between an unmarried man and woman, gay or lesbian relations, stem cell research, and having a baby outside of marriage.

Americans are least likely to regard married men and women having an affair, cloning humans, polygamy and suicide as morally OK. Their opinions are most closely divided on morality of abortion -- 43% believe it is morally acceptable and 48% believe it is not.

Drinking Alcohol, Smoking Marijuana Among Practices Americans Find Most Morally Acceptable
Next, I'm going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong.
Morally acceptable Morally wrong
% %
Birth control 91 6
Drinking alcohol ^ 78 19
Divorce 76 20
Sex between an unmarried man and woman 69 28
Gambling 69 28
Gay or lesbian relations 67 30
Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos 66 29
Smoking marijuana ^ 65 31
Having a baby outside of marriage 65 32
The death penalty 62 33
Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur 60 37
Medical testing on animals 54 43
Doctor assisted suicide 54 42
Abortion 43 48
Pornography 43 55
Sex between teenagers 42 54
Cloning animals 40 57
Suicide 20 75
Polygamy, when a married person has more than one spouse at the same time 19 78
Cloning humans 16 81
Married men and women having an affair 10 88
May 1-10, 2018; ^ Asked of a half sample

Gallup's trends on many of these items date back to 2001. On most, Americans have adopted more permissive views over time. Presumably, this also applies to the new item on smoking marijuana, given the surge over the past two decades in the percentage who say that smoking the drug should be legal. In fact, the 64% who last fall said marijuana should be legal nearly matches the 65% who say smoking it is morally acceptable.


Religiosity Is Key Determinant in Views of Drinking, Smoking Marijuana

Majorities of key subgroups of Americans regard both drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana as morally acceptable, but highly religious Americans, as measured by the frequency with which they attend church, are less likely to do so. Whereas 88% of those who seldom or never attend religious services find drinking alcohol to be morally acceptable, 60% of those who attend weekly hold that view. And while three-quarters of non-attenders say smoking marijuana is OK, less than half of regular churchgoers, 41%, agree.

Other subgroup differences, including those by gender, age, race and political ideology, appear to reflect differences in church attendance among those groups. For example, nonwhites, women, older Americans and conservatives are more likely to attend church but less likely to say smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol are OK.

Religiosity a Key Factor in Views of Morality of Drinking Alcohol, Smoking Marijuana
Drinking Alcohol Smoking Marijuana
% Acceptable % Wrong % Acceptable % Wrong
U.S. adults 78 19 65 31
Men 84 15 70 26
Women 73 23 59 36
18 to 34 years 81 18 77 21
35 to 54 years 78 17 61 36
55+ years 77 21 58 37
White 82 15 68 29
Nonwhite 67 29 59 35
College graduate
Yes 87 9 72 24
No 73 25 61 34
How often attend church
Every week 60 37 41 59
Monthly 71 22 63 31
Seldom/Never 88 11 75 20
Liberal 84 11 81 19
Moderate 77 20 75 21
Conservative 75 25 47 49
May 1-10, 2018

In nearly every key subgroup, a greater percentage say drinking alcohol is morally acceptable than says the same about smoking marijuana. Young adults, ideological liberals and moderates are notable exceptions, as these three groups are about equally likely to find the two practices morally acceptable. In contrast to liberals and moderates, ideological conservatives are far more likely to view drinking alcohol (75%) than smoking marijuana (47%) as acceptable moral behavior.

Bottom Line

Most Americans do not object on moral grounds to people drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. Of the two, they are more likely to see drinking alcohol as an acceptable behavior, perhaps because it is legal in all states while smoking marijuana is not. Some states have recently legalized marijuana and many others are considering doing so, perhaps removing some of the stigma associated with the drug. But with roughly two-thirds of the public saying marijuana use is morally acceptable, it seems there will not be sufficient opposition to thwart attempts to make it legal.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 1-10, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The results for the drinking alcohol item are based on a random sample of 542 adults and the results for the smoking marijuana item are based on a random sample of 482 adults. For results based on these samples, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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