A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 91 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization. Attitudes toward marijuana have been steadily improving as states have continued to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have legalized recreational cannabis use. 33 states plus D.C., Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have legalized medical marijuana use.
Should Marijuana Be Legalized?
Public opinion on marijuana legalization has shifted toward a more favorable view of the plant. Even previously anti-marijuana subgroups have grown to support the legalization movement. In 2010, 52 percent of adults opposed cannabis legalization. That has fallen to 32 percent. Today, 91 percent of American adults want marijuana legalized.
According to the Pew survey, 59 percent of adults support legalization for medical and recreational purposes. 32 percent of respondents preferred to legalize marijuana for medical use only. Just 8 percent of adults said marijuana should be completely banned. The poll reflects data from other sources showing increased support for medical and recreational cannabis use, especially among younger generations.
The poll also accounted for gaps in opinions about marijuana legalization based on gender, race, and education level. The following data shows the percentage of people who oppose marijuana legalization vs those that favor it.
|Group||Opposed to Legalization||In Favor of Legalization|
|Men||30 percent||68 percent|
|Women||33 percent||65 percent|
|White||30 percent||69 percent|
|Black||33 percent||67 percent|
|Hispanic||32 percent||63 percent|
|Post Graduate Education||30 percent||68 percent|
|College Degree||35 percent||63 percent|
|Some College||31 percent||68 percent|
|High School or Less||31 percent||67 percent|
Marijuana legalization continues to draw a division between the two main political parties. 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents stated that marijuana should be made legal, while only 55 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners showed support for legalization. 20 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents opposed legalization. 44 percent of Republicans were opposed to legalization.
Millennials, born between 1981 to 1997, showed the most support for marijuana legalization compared to other demographics, including the Silent Generation (1928-45), Boomers (1946-64), and Gen X (1965-80). The majority of Boomers and Gen X respondents showed overwhelming support for legalization, 63 and 65 percent, respectively. The Silent Generation showed the least amount of approval for cannabis. Only 35 percent of the Silent Generation thought marijuana should be made legal.
Generational and Partisan Differences
Marijuana’s popularity and public support have broken past partisan sensibilities toward a more favorable light. Pew’s survey revealed that Millennial Republicans are showing increased support for the plant’s legalization. The data shows that Millennial Republicans and Democrats showed about the same favorability for legalization at 71 percent and 78 percent, respectively. 55 percent of Gen X Republicans and 49 percent of Boomer Republicans support legalization. The Silent Generation’s Republicans showed the least amount of support for marijuana legalization at 21 percent.
Young Americans Support Cannabis Legalization
A growing number of Americans are showing unwavering support for the legalization of cannabis. Trends have shown that younger people have more permissive views on marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes. According to the Pew survey, 69 percent of participants aged 18 to 29 approve of medical and recreational marijuana, while only 48 percent of people ages 65 and older support cannabis for medical and recreational use.
Only a minority of Americans continue to oppose marijuana legalization for medical or recreational use. Only 2 percent of Americans ages 18-29 said that marijuana should not be legal at all. 64 percent of those ages 30 to 49 believe marijuana should be legalized for all purposes, while 53 percent of those ages 50-64 support legalization for medical and recreational use.
Pew’s data comes at the heels of similar polls showing that a majority of Americans support medical and recreational marijuana legalization. An October 2019 Gallup report showed that support for legalization has remained at a steady 66 percent over the past year. Between 2005 and 2018, support for legalization has increased by 30 percentage points.
The earliest Gallup data on marijuana favorability, in 1969, showed that just 12 percent of American adults supported legalization. By 1977, that number increased to 28 percent, which persisted through 1995. In 2000, Gallup data showed a minor increase in support for legalization, reaching 30 percent. In 2019, marijuana’s favorability has more than doubled.
Marijuana is currently a Schedule I substance under federal law, but most states have enacted medical and recreational marijuana laws, a trend which shows no sign of slowing down. Many presidential candidates have also expressed support and clear plans for cannabis legalization with an emphasis on social equity. A marijuana legalization bill has also reached the floor of Congress, a historic feat for the entire industry.