In October 1969, 84 percent of Americans opposed legalizing the use of marijuana, 12 percent thought it should be legal. Thirty-two years later in October 2011, Gallup found for the first time Americans broke the 50 percent threshold favoring legalizing the drug. Today, the November elections mark the first time voters popularly legalized the drug for recreational use. In Colorado, State Constitutional Amendment 64 passed 55 to 45 percent, and in Washington Initiative 502 also passed 55 to 45 percent, legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
The Reason-Rupe poll conducted this past September also found the nation ripe for drug policy change. The nation is evenly divided over whether to legalize small amount of marijuana for adults, 48 to 48 percent. However, nearly three-fourths believe medical marijuana should be legal with a doctor's prescription.
Young Americans are much more open to reform, about 59 percent of Americans under 34 favor legalization, as do 56 percent among those 35-44. Middle-aged Americans are evenly split, while seniors are most opposed 64 percent to 29 percent in favor. However, even a majority of seniors (58 percent) favor medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor.
Religiosity highly correlates with position on drug legalization. Sixty-seven percent of those who attend church weekly oppose legalizing recreational pot, but 58 percent support medical marijuana. In contrast 75 percent of those who never attend church favor marijuana legalization, as do 61 percent of those who only attend church a few times a year.
The gender gap emerges for recreational but not medical marijuana. Fifty-two percent of men favor legalizing recreational pot, and 52 percent of women oppose.
Interestingly, significantly more tea party supporters than Republicans favor legalizing marijuana (38 percent to 27 percent). Upwards of 55 percent fo both Democrats and Independents also support legalizing the drug.
It is surprising that only 18 of the 50 states allow medical marijuana given that nearly all political and demographic groups favor medical marijuana with a physician's prescription.
With 41 years of experience since President Richard Nixon first called for a War on Drugs in 1971, fully 80 percent of Americans think this war has been a failure. Among these Americans a plurality (37 percent) think we should ease up spending on this failed war, but 35 percent think we should keep spending the same, and a quarter think the solution is spending more money.
Despite the fact that majorities of Democrats and Independents want to legalize pot, while nearly two thirds of Republicans want it banned, all political groups are equally likely to want to spend more money fighting the war on drugs (about 25 percent). About a third of all political groups also would spend less money, and roughly 40 percent would spend what we're doing now.
If a political candidate were to take a stand in favor of treating marijuana like alcohol, thereby legalizing it, 43 percent say it would make no difference in how they voted, 29 percent would be less likely and 26 percent more likely to vote for that candidate. Republicans would be more likely to oppose such a candidate (47 percent) than Democrats (18 percent) or Independents (29 percent). But nationally it only helps a candidate among 31 percent of Democrats, 32 percent of Independents and 13 percent of Republicans.
Colorado and Washington states legalizing recreational marijuana is likely a harbinger of liberalizing drug policy nationwide. Interestingly, state polls before the election underestimated actual support for both measures. In Colorado average support for Amendment 64 was 52 percent, it passed with 55 percent; In Washington average support for Initiative 502 was 51 percent and it also passed with 55 percent of the vote. With national support hovering at about 50 percent, federal bureaucrats may soon find they lack the political support needed to continue the national War on Drugs.