Marijuana's Public Support Still Rising

Marijuana's Public Support Still Rising

It’s clear. Fewer people than ever fear reefer, let alone reefer madness, as marijuana's public support has reached an all time high in a new opinion poll.

A CBS News poll released this April reveals that a whopping 61 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That’s a five percentage point increase over the poll’s record breaking 2015 results. What’s more, 88 percent of survey respondents approve medical marijuana use.

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Only a quickly diminishing 33 percent believed marijuana should remain illegal.

The CBS News findings infer two growing trends related to marijuana's public support. The first is that marijuana, in general, is becoming less stigmatized as the years pass. Once widely viewed through a controversial lens, now the plant seems to have been normalized in the popular American mind. And second, folks are growing more appreciative of marijuana’s medical benefits, valuing it in a greater context than represented in old Cheech and Chong films. 

  • 61 percent support full legalization
  • 88 percent support medical legalization
  • 76 percent of millennial approve legalization
  • 71 percent oppose federal interference in state marijuana laws
  • 65 percent feel marijuana is the least dangerous "drug"

But the recent results highlight more than just overall pot approval ratings.

Additional findings

Over 71 percent think the federal government should defer to state laws on marijuana matters. Politically speaking, opposition to federal interference is bipartisan (remember that word?), as self-identified Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) prefer Washington D.C. allow state legislatures take the lead on cannabis laws for now.

Also, 65 percent of poll participants view marijuana as less dangerous than other drugs—notably, 53 percent see alcohol as a more harmful substance—while more than three-quarters see absolutely no connection between legalization and crime increase.

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Historical trends

Americans have changed their minds about marijuana dramatically over the past four decades.

When CBS News first polled marijuana's public support in 1979, only 27 percent felt it should be legal. Yet it wasn’t until post-2010 that sentiments began their striking shift. In 2011, just six years ago, legalization enjoyed only 40 percent support. By 2013 that number snuck up to 45 percent, but it wasn’t until 2014 that a majority (51 percent) gave legal marijuana the thumbs-up.

During the past three years, however, approval numbers have skyrocketed as more than three-fifths of Americans have made their peace with marijuana.

Given that trending, it may come as no surprise that the age demographic least supportive of legalization is the 65-and-older bracket (37 percent), while Millennials are the most favorable (76 percent). The three age groups in between all approved legalization at, or above, the 60 percent threshold.

CBS poll not an outlier

CBS News polling is not alone showing marijuana favorability trends.

A Gallup survey from October 2016 reflected a 60 percent approval rating for marijuana legalization, and a Pew poll from the same month had it pegged at 57 percent. Gallup’s marijuana poll extends back farther than the CBS version by a decade. In its first pot poll in 1969, Gallup recorded a mere 12 percent of Americans favoring legal weed.

Throughout the 1980s and well into the 90s, pro-legalization sentiment could never quite clear the 30 percent plateau. But since opinions began turning, they have done so in a decided fashion.

Since 1995, when a only a quarter of respondents gave the head nod to Gallup, approval numbers have climbed steadily with the exception of a handful of years. In the single year between 2012 and 2013, legalization favorability percentages increased as much as they did in the quarter century between 1980 and 2005.

While the Donald Trump administration has yet to take a decisive marijuana stance, Americans seem to be sending a very clear signal: public support for marijuana is only going to become more resolute.