National support for marijuana legalization hits new heights

The Washington Post

National support for marijuana legalization continues to rise, according to survey data released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

A Pew poll conducted at the end of August found that 57 percent of American adults now say marijuana should be legal. That’s the highest support the Pew poll has ever shown on the question, in line with other polling from Gallup and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Perhaps more significantly, the Pew study found that opposition to legalization has dropped precipitously. In March 2015, 44 percent of Americans said they opposed marijuana legalization. That figure has fallen to 37 percent in the latest poll, meaning that legalization supporters have a 20-percentage-point lead over opponents.

Legalization supporters credit better public understanding of the risks and benefits of marijuana use as a driver of the shift.

“There is more credible information out there than ever before,” said Mason Tvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, in an email. “As people learn that marijuana is not as dangerous as they were once led to believe, they tend to be supportive of taking a new approach.”

In November, voters in five states will decide to follow the lead of Washington, Colorado and other states in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Polls generally show voters favor these measures, although in several cases the margins are quite small.

The Pew survey found that legalization is strongly favored by every age group except for seniors ages 71 and up. Federal research has shown that people in their early and late middle age are among the fastest-growing segments of the marijuana market.

Young people are especially supportive of marijuana legalization, Pew found.

Among millennials, 71 percent support legalization while only 25 percent oppose it. Previous surveys have found that even young conservative voters favor legalization, and that young voters tend to see a candidate’s support for marijuana legalization as something that would make them more likely to vote for that candidate.

While states grapple with marijuana legalization, federal policy has remained largely unchanged for over 40 years. As recently as August, the Drug Enforcement Administration denied a petition to loosen federal restrictions on marijuana for medical use.

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