If opponents of marijuana reform ever believed the winds would turn back in their favor, a new poll should kill those hopes forever.

Public Opinion PollThe survey, released in March by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago, reports that fully 61 percent of Americans now want to see cannabis legalized. That’s by far the highest percentage found by any national poll to date.

It also means there will be no turning back. Support has been increasing for decades – at first slowly, more recently with the urgency of a tidal wave. Even hesitant politicians will have a hard time ignoring these numbers.

The closest result, published in a Gallup poll last fall, revealed that 58 percent of Americans wanted to legalize. The new poll used the same wording: “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?”

Varying degrees of legalization

But the results were tempered by the fact that a significant minority of respondents, 24 percent, want to make marijuana available “only with a medical prescription.” A larger group, 43 percent, favored putting “restrictions on purchase amounts” for recreational cannabis, while more than 30 percent said they back legalization with “no restrictions” on possession amounts.

“This is yet another demonstration of just how ready Americans are for the end of marijuana prohibition,” said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority. “The growing level of support for legalization that we see in poll after poll is exactly why we’re now in a situation – for the first time in history – where every major presidential candidate in both parties has pledged to let states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats favored full reform by wider margins than Republicans: 70 percent compared to 47 percent. Independents, meanwhile, back the idea by 65 percent, a critical number given the pivotal roll these voters play in state and federal elections.

And as in previous polls, young voters want legalization in much higher numbers than senior citizens. Among 18- to 29-year-old respondents, support was at 82 percent, while just 44 percent of voters aged 60 and over want to see it happen.

Up to 16 states could vote on legalization this year

american flag marijuana leafThe poll arrives at a big moment for cannabis reform in America. As many as 16 states could vote to legalize in November, with California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Nevada widely considered the most likely – and most important – battlegrounds.

Hope for change has also reached the global stage. The United Nations will hold a special session in April to reconsider its approach to international drug laws. Health experts and reform advocates are pushing the UN to adopt a policy that favors decriminalization and legalization of drugs.

And days before the poll, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma that could have stopped legalization cold in Colorado. The ruling should make it easier for additional states to legalize if they choose to do so.

Still, there are limitations to the poll numbers. Previous surveys by Gallup didn’t ask such detailed questions about the degree of legalization voters support, so there is no way to know with certainty how reliable those figures are, or how much they have changed.

But the poll is unquestionably good news for reformers who want to end the drug war. Among other things, it will make it more likely the next president – whoever that might be – will move in the direction of smarter policy.

Tell us: How long do you think it will take before marijuana is legal from coast to coast?

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