Public support for legalizing marijuana has more than tripled since the 1970’s, according to a new Gallup Poll that also found a clear majority of Americans (58%) now say the drug should be legalized. When Gallup first asked the question in 1969, only 12% of Americans favored legalizing marijuana.
The national poll of 1,028 registered voters was conducted in early October and has a margin of error of 4%. In April, a similar poll by the Pew Research Foundation was the first to find that a majority of Americans favor legalization.
“The dramatically increasing support for making marijuana legal should come as no surprise. Marijuana prohibition has been an abject failure. Most Americans realize it is unjust, wasteful, and counterproductive to invest in the criminalization of adults for using a substance that is far less harmful than alcohol,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization.
Attitudes about marijuana have changed significantly in recent years. Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use last year.
Support for legalization has jumped 10 percentage points since last November. In California, advocates of legalization are planning a statewide ballot initiative in 2014 to legalize the drug for recreational use. California is one of 19 states, along with the District of Columbia, where the medical use of marijuana is already allowed.
Both medical and recreational use of marijuana technically remain illegal under federal law, although the U.S. Justice Department recently said it would not rigorously enforce the law in states where it is legal, provided that those states enforce rules on the drug’s sale and distribution.
The Gallup Poll found broad support for legalization among younger voters. Sixty-seven percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 back legalization, and 62% of those between the ages of 30 and 49.
Americans 65 and older are the only age group that still opposes legalization.
The growing support for legalization among Independents has helped drive support for legalizing marijuana. Sixty-two percent of Independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012.
Support for legalization among Democrats and Republicans saw little change. More than two in three Democrats (65%) favor legalization, compared to just 35% of Republicans.
Marijuana advocates say the Gallup poll is a further sign that marijuana should be decriminalized at the national level.
“It is time for Congress to take this issue head on. It should no longer be considered scary or troublesome to speak out in support of more sensible marijuana policies. We need to put marijuana prohibition behind us, and our leaders need to step up to move things forward,” Kampia said in a statement.