More Americans than ever approve of marijuana use, highlighting a shift in public opinion as many states move or have moved to legalize the substance.
When asked whether marijuana should be legalized, 58 percent of respondents to a recent Gallup poll said “yes.” That’s compared to just 39 percent who said “no.”
The new wave of support is prompting advocates of marijuana legalization to strike while the iron is hot, using the data to persuade lawmakers that their constituents want them to support legalization reform.
“The majority of Americans now agree that it is time to legalize and regulate,” NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “The issue can no longer be ignored or sidelined. Legalization is now the mainstream position and supporters of perpetuating our war on marijuana will continue to be further relegated to the fringe.”
The political breakdown showed 65 percent approval among Democrats, with just 35 percent of Republicans favoring legalization. Independents support legalization at 62 percent, up 12 percentage points from last year.
In addition to showing Americans’ highest ever acceptance of marijuana, the poll also marks how rapidly public opinion is changing. In 2001, just 31 percent of Americans were in favor of legalization, according to a Gallup poll.
Gallup first began polling Americans on the question in 1969, when 12 percent of the public favored legalization of marijuana.
Public support grew to 28 percent support in 1977, just six years after President Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs and included marijuana in the “Schedule One” drug category with heroin and LSD. By 1985, approval had dropped to 23 percent, remaining at roughly that same level for a decade.
It wasn’t until 2001 that the U.S. saw a steady increase in support for legalization, which grew steadily in the years following. From 2010 to 2013, approval ratings took a huge leap, growing from 44 percent to 58 percent, the highest claim seen within a three-year period. According to Gallup, approval since last November has grown another 10 percentage points.
It was during that time citizens in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, paving the way for a new discussion in the U.S. on its health benefits and its potential benefits to the American economy and criminal justice system, which has suffered from the high rate of incarcerating nonviolent users of the drug.
“Whatever the reasons for Americans’ greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States,” Gallup states in its analysis of the poll. “Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide.”