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Americans Oppose General Legalization Of Marijuana

Americans Oppose General Legalization Of Marijuana

But Support Use for Medicinal Purposes

by David W. Moore


By a large majority, Americans continue to oppose the general legalization of marijuana, but by an even larger majority they would support the drug's use for medicinal purposes. These findings, from a Gallup poll conducted March 19-21, follow the announcement several days earlier from the Institute of Medicine, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, that marijuana's active ingredients can ease the pain, nausea and vomiting caused by cancer and AIDS.

According to the poll, just 29% of respondents support general legalization of marijuana, while 69% are opposed. These figures represent a slight gain for the proposal, with support higher than last year by five percentage points. In four previous polls dating back to 1979, support has varied from 23% to 28%. The earliest poll asking about this issue was conducted in 1969, when just 12% supported legalization.

Despite this opposition to the general legalization of the drug, by a three-to-one margin Americans would support making marijuana available to doctors, so it could be prescribed to reduce pain and suffering. In six states, voters have already approved marijuana for medicinal use, although the drug remains banned by federal law. With the responses to both questions taken into account, the poll shows that 28% of Americans support legalization of marijuana for whatever reason, 25% oppose it even for medicinal purposes, while 43% support it for medicinal purposes but not for general use.

Younger Americans More Supportive of Legalization
Not surprisingly, attitudes toward marijuana are strongly related to age, with 44% of those younger than 30 supporting the general legalization of the drug, compared with 30% among those in the 30-49 age category, 21% among those 50-64 years of age, and just 11% among those 65 and older.

Among those in the "baby boomer" generation (35-53 years of age), which is often associated with youthful recreational drug use, support for legalization of marijuana is not particularly different from what would be expected given their age. Overall, 31% of the "boomers" would support the general legalization of marijuana, compared with 38% of those who are younger and 16% of those who are older.

All age groups support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use, but those 65 and over are somewhat less supportive than the rest. About three in four of those under the age of 65 express support, compared with 63% among those who are older.

Modest Partisan Differences
The greatest support for general legalization is found among those who do not identify with either political party. Among independents, 37% express support, compared with just 22% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats

All three political groups give majority support for legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, although Republicans are somewhat less inclined to do so (63%) than are independents (79%) or Democrats (76%).

Survey Methods
The results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,018 adults, 18 years and older, conducted March 19-21, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 5 percentage points. 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.

Suppose that on election day this year you could vote on key issues as well as candidates. Please tell me whether you would vote for or against each one of the following propositions.

For Against No opinion
a. For or against the legalization of marijuana
99 Mar 19-21
TOTAL 29% 69% 2%
18-29 44 54 2
30-49 30 68 2
50-64 21 78 1
65+ 11 85 4
Republican 22 77 1
Independent 37 60 3
Democrat 27 71 2
b. For or against making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe in order to reduce pain and suffering
99 Mar 19-21
TOTAL 73% 25% 2%
18-29 77 22 1
30-49 75 24 1
50-64 72 25 3
65+ 63 35 2
Republican 63 36 1
Independent 79 19 2
Democrat 76 23 1

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