Public support for marijuana legalization has reached a new high.
According to pollsters at Quinnipiac University, 69 percent of all Americans and clear majorities in every demographic group now favor the legalization of marijuana. That's up from 51 percent of Americans who said they favored legalization in 2012, the first year Quinnipiac included questions about marijuana in their national surveys, and up from 60 percent who backed legalization in 2019. The trend is unmistakable.
Support isn't just growing, it is broadening. The Quinnipiac poll found that 78 percent of self-identified Democrats, 62 percent of self-identified Republicans, and 67 percent of self-identified independents favor legalization. The only age demographic where support for legalization falls short of 70 percent is for respondents who are 65 and older—though even that cohort supports legalization by a slim margin (51 percent).
The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed 1,237 American adults between April 8 and 12, is in line with other recent snapshots of the electorate. A Gallup poll taken in November 2020 found 68 percent of Americans favor legal weed.
Those numbers show that politicians who continue to oppose legalization are increasingly out of step with the anti-prohibition sentiments of the general public.
That includes President Joe Biden, who recently reiterated his opposition to legal marijuana. "He believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana, but his position has not changed," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last month.
But such politicians are in the minority. Outside of the White House, the political trend is almost as clear as the trend within public opinion. New York and New Mexico recently became the 16th and 17th states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Significantly, as Reason's Jacob Sullum highlighted, both states changed their stance on marijuana by passing legislation rather than using a ballot initiative, which is how most states have moved to legalize weed.
Similarly, the Virginia General Assembly voted earlier this year to accelerate the process of legalization in that state—which was originally set to legalize possession of marijuana in 2024, but will now do so on July 1 of this year (sales will still be illegal until 2024, however).
These are important changes, because they signal that state lawmakers are starting to catch up with prevailing public opinion—which, in turn, means that legalization efforts may no longer have to route around state legislatures and governor's offices in order to succeed.
Congress and the White House are a different story. But Biden has always been something of a rusty weather vane when it comes to policy, and the wind is blowing hard in a clear direction on this one.