America’s budding love affair with marijuana continues.
A new poll out from the Pew Research Center – the gold standard of political polling organizations – shows most Americans still want cannabis legalization. Fully 53 percent of voters told pollsters they would support reform at the ballot box.
Just 44 percent said they oppose the idea. A Pew poll from the same time last year found roughly the same numbers, with 54 percent behind legalization.
Though the poll suggests support hasn’t grown much in the intervening year, it hasn’t receded either. And as reform continues to spread, that backing is likely to grow further.
The fortunes of legal cannabis have undergone a major turnaround in just the last decade. When the same poll was released in 2006, just 32 percent said they would vote to legalize in their states. About 60 percent said they would vote against the idea.
Millennial voters causing shifting politics
The biggest surge, not surprisingly, has come in the form of Millennial Americans. A staggering 68% of these voters favor legalization of recreational weed. That’s the highest support of any age group queried in the poll.
Even excluding Millennial voters, support for legal pot has exploded across the country. Every generation except those between ages 70 and 87 – the so-called Silent Generation – back recreational reform. And even in that age group, support is growing.
The Pew survey also demonstrates that the change in public opinion is occurring almost entirely in one direction. Thirty percent of voters said they have always supported legalization while 21 percent said they have changed their minds in favor. Meanwhile, 35 percent said they have always opposed reform and just 7 percent said they have changed their minds against it.
Cannabis as safe as tobacco and alcohol
The safety of cannabis, and the mistaken belief among many that it isn’t safe, are the driving reasons behind voters’ position on legalization. Those who feel the drug is as safe as alcohol and cigarettes are much more likely to vote for reform than those who see it as a public menace.
Medical use was the No. 1 reason why voters said they support legalizing marijuana; 41 percent cited it as their chief motivation for backing reform. Thirty-six percent cited weed’s demonstrated safety as their top rationale.
“I think crime would be lower if they legalized marijuana,” said one respondent, a 62-year-old woman. “It would put the drug dealers out of business.”
Surprisingly, only small numbers of voters put much trust in the financial possibilities of legal pot: 27 percent said reform would lead to better regulation of cannabis and higher tax revenues, while 12 percent said it would resolve cost and enforcement issues for the government.
The smallest group of respondents, roughly 9 percent, said they simply believe people should be free to use weed – no other explanation needed.