Last October, after a survey found that 58 percent of Americans want to legalize marijuana, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet said the results must be wrong, because it was inconceivable that so many people disagreed with him, and whoever heard of this "Gallup Poll," anyway? Just kidding. Sabet actually said Gallup's sample was too small, although it was just as big as the samples used in two other surveys that he deemed more trustworthy (possibly because they put support for legalization below 50 percent). Now CNN reports that in its latest poll 55 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal, while 44 percent said it should not. CNN notes that the results "are similar to [those of] a Gallup poll conducted in October."
Sabet also complained that Gallup "asked about marijuana use, not sales and production." CNN asked about distribution as well as consumption, and 54 percent of respondents said "the sale of marijuana should be made legal." As I pointed out last fall, other recent polls likewise have found majority support for legalizing the marijuana business. Apparently Americans are not as terrified as Sabet thinks they should be by the prospect of "Big Marijuana."
While it's true that some recent polls do not find majority support for legalization, the overall trend is unmistakable:
According to the CNN poll and numbers from General Social Survey polling, support for legalizing marijuana has steadily soared over the past quarter century—from 16% in 1987 to 26% in 1996, 34% in 2002, and 43% two years ago.
Gallup has found a similar increase:
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.
Consistent with this trend, polls typically find an inverse correlation between age and support for legalization. Here is the age breakdown in the CNN poll:
Two-thirds of those 18 to 34 said marijuana should be legal, with 64% of those 34 to 49 in agreement.
Half of those 50 to 64 believe marijuana should be legal, but that number dropped to 39% for those age 65 and older.
Maybe the Gallup and CNN numbers exaggerate support for legalization. Perhaps the 50 percent threshold won't really be crossed until next year or the year after. But one thing is clear: Sabet is losing.