According to a new Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana—the largest percentage ever in that survey. "Success at the ballot box in the past year in Colorado and Washington may have increased Americans' tolerance for marijuana legalization," Gallup says. "Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November and the legal momentum shows no sign of abating."
Gallup's survey asks, "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?" That leaves open the question of whether commercial production and distribution should be legal as well (as in Colorado and Washington). But other national polls that go beyond marijuana consumption also have found majority support for legalization. In a Reason-Rupe survey last January, for example, 53 percent of respondents said "the government should treat marijuana the same as alcohol." And last month a Public Policy Polling survey in Texas found that 58 percent of respondents either "somewhat" or "strongly" supported "changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older." The latter finding was especially striking given the state's conservative reputation.
In the Gallup poll, "Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28%. It then plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50% in 2011." As usual, support for legalization in this year's survey is stronger among Democrats than among Republicans (65 percent vs. 35 percent) and inversely related to age. "Americans 65 and older are the only age group that still opposes legalizing marijuana," Gallup notes, with only 45 percent in favor, compared to 67 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds. Gallup cites personal experience with marijuana as a possible factor in rising support for legalization, noting that "a sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug." That is slightly lower than the rate found in the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which includes 12-to-17-year-olds as well as adults. Both numbers probably understate the true percentage of Americans who have tried pot, since people may be reluctant to admit breaking the law even in a confidential survey.
Gallup draws a parallel between growing support for marijuana legalization and growing support for gay marriage. I made a similar point in a column last year.