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There’s a change blowing in the wind and recent polls consistently reveal that Americans by clear majorities support legalizing cannabis. Polls represent a snapshot, a moment in time, in people’s thinking, opinions, or preferences. For adults interested in cannabis, several polls by various organizations demonstrate positive attitude changes across regions and age groups.
We’ve previously written about a Pew Poll conducted in October 2018 which found that six-in-ten Americans (62%) felt cannabis should be legalized. A 2017 CBS News poll (updated in 2018), revealed similar numbers where six-in-ten Americans favor legalization. The precise numbers were 69% favored it while 36% did not. Those opposed believe that legal cannabis leads to an increase in crime and other illegal drug use. For a historical perspective, in 2011, only 50% of Americans supported legal cannabis and going back to 1979, only 27% supported legal cannabis and 69% did not. So despite some lingering, negative perceptions about cannabis, the numbers are headed in the right direction.
Cannabis is Trending Upward
The CBS poll also found that 62% of people believed that legalization should be left to the states, not the federal government. One somewhat concerning result in the CBS poll is that older adults feel cannabis should remain illegal. Politics also play a role in that Republicans remain divided about legalization while most Democrats and independents support it.
“Polling is merely an instrument for gauging public opinion. When a president or any other leader pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people. Any other interpretation is nonsense.” – George H. Gallup
An October 2018 Gallup poll found similar responses to both the Pew and CBS polls. Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup’s trend over nearly fifty years. The latest figures mark increased support for the third consecutive year and establish a new record regarding rising acceptance.
Legalizing cannabis was unpopular when Gallup first asked Americans about it in 1969 – just 12% at that time said it should be made legal. Support grew in the 1970s but stagnated in the 20% range until the new millennium, when momentum for legalization picked up again. Since 2000, support for legalizing marijuana has trended steeply upward, reaching majority support for the first time in 2013 – a year after Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational use of cannabis via ballot initiatives, making them the first states to do so.
Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal cannabis for the first time, and this year’s figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support. Views that it should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.
According to Gallup, Americans age 55 and older who support legalization came in at 59% approval, up from 50% last year. This differs somewhat from some data in the original 2017 CBS poll but Gallup’s data follows the continued upward trend in the space of a year. Support is strongest among adults ages 18 to 34, at 78%, while nearly two-in-three adults ages 35 to 54 (65%) approve legalized cannabis.
Cannabis Supported Across the U.S.
Gallup’s earlier data found that in 2009 and 2010, before any state legalized cannabis, support for legalization reached the majority level in only one U.S. region – the West, at 56%. In most polls since, residents in the West, along with Eastern residents, have led the remaining regions in favoring legalized cannabis. But attitudes about legalization have changed more recently. Gallup learned that in 2017 and 2018, support for legalization is about even in the East (67%), Midwest (65%), South (65%) and West (65%).
Over the past few years, the popularity, perception, and acceptance of cannabis for adults is consistently trending upward. We have some work to do to keep opinions and values headed in the right direction, but it comes down to more education and honest conversations. When mature adults learn about the many health and wellness benefits derived from the cannabis plant, hearts and minds tend to open.
How do you feel about legal cannabis? Do you support medicinal and adult-use? Why or why not? Please share your views on our social channels and start a conversation.
Karl Phillips is a writer who covers the cannabis community from Los Angeles.