For the first time, a majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana. A national survey by the Pew Research Foundation found that 52% believe the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not.
Even bigger majorities support the use of medical marijuana. By 77% to 16%, most say that marijuana does have legitimate medical uses. Support for medical marijuana is broad and cuts across age and party lines; with 76% of Democrats, 72% of Republicans and 60% of Americans aged 65 and older saying marijuana has legitimate medical uses.
About a third of those surveyed (30%) said they had used marijuana in the past year for a medical issue. Nearly half (47%) said they used it “just for fun.”
Although the use of marijuana to treat medical issues remains controversial, several recent studies have found that marijuana is effective at treating chronic pain caused neuropathy, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
The Pew survey, which was conducted by telephone in March among 1,501 adults, found that young people were most supportive of legalizing marijuana. Nearly two out of three Millennials – people between the ages of 18 and 32 – favor legalizing the use of marijuana.
Attitudes about marijuana have changed significantly over the years. A Gallup survey conducted in 1969 found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana. By 2010, 41% favored legalization.
Colorado and Washington became the first U.S. states to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for recreational use last year. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of marijuana. Both medical and recreational use remain illegal under federal law.
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Americans surveyed by Pew said government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. A majority (60%) believe the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states that have approved marijuana use.
Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, an advocacy group, told Reuters it was time for politicians to catch up with shifting public attitudes about marijuana.
“You’re going to start seeing more politicians running toward our movement instead of away from it, just as we’ve seen happen” with same-sex marriage, Angell said in an emailed statement.