A new YouGov poll commissioned by The Economist finds most Americans support marijuana legalization. Here is the question:

Some people say marijuana should be treated like alcohol and tobacco. They say it should be regulated and taxed and made illegal for minors. Do you agree?

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they agreed, while only 23 percent disagreed. The remaining 19 percent had no opinion. This is the strongest support for legalization that I can recall seeing in a nationally representative poll. A Gallup poll in late October found that 46 percent of Americans favored legalization, a record for that organization's surveys. (By comparison, support was under 30 percent in Gallup polls taken during the late 1970s, a time that today is remembered as relatively pot-tolerant.) As far as I know, the only other survey to find majority support for legalizing pot was a May 2009 Zogby poll in which 52 percent of respondents favored that position. The question in that survey was pretty slanted in favor of legalization, however. 

Support for legalization in the YouGov survey was strongest among 18-to-29-year-olds, about two-thirds of whom favored the policy change, compared to less than half of respondents 65 and older. Nearly 60 percent of 30-to-64-year-olds said pot should be legal. The inverse correlation between age and support for legalization may to some extent reflect increasing conservatism as people get older. But it also corresponds to each generation's level of personal experience with marijuana. In the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, self-reported lifetime use of illegal drugs (overwhelmingly marijuana) averaged about 59 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds, 49 percent among 30-to-64-year-olds, and 15 percent among older Americans. (The actual numbers are probably somewhat higher, since people may be reluctant to admit breaking the law even in anonymous surveys.) Even if they never smoked pot themselves, Americans born after World War II are quite likely to have observed others who did. It is difficult to demonize a drug that has become so familiar, or to justify arresting people for growing, selling, and consuming it.

Meanwhile, President Obama, a former pot smoker who has declared the war on drugs "an utter failure" and used to support decriminalizing marijuana, continues to literally laugh at people who question the wisdom of prohibition. Look at how he responds at the beginning of this video when told that drug policy issues topped the list of concerns in the recent YouTube question competition. Those silly potheads!

The YouGov results are here (PDF). For further discussion of YouGov's sampling methods, go here. I charted rising pot tolerance in the August/September issue of Reason.

[Thanks to Tom Angell of LEAP for the tip.]