There have been a number of national surveys released over the last few months measuring the public’s support for marijuana legalization, confirming a majority of Americans continue to favor ending prohibition by legalizing and regulating marijuana.
While one of those polls (Gallup) did register an unexpected decline in support for legalization between 2013 and 2014 (a decline within the survey’s statistical margin of error, meaning it may not reflect an actual drop in support), the poll still found 51 percent support; and several other polls continue to find an increasing majority of the public nationwide support full legalization. And because of the demographics of this issue, that support should only continue to grow over the coming years.
General Social Survey
The most important of these latest surveys may be the General Social Survey, a national survey conducted every two years, that some consider the most reliable of the many national surveys. The survey involved interviews with 1,687 respondents between March and October of 2014, and found 52 percent support full legalization, with 42 percent opposed, and 7 percent undecided. This is the first time they have found majority support for full legalization, and the level of support represents a 9 point gain since they last asked the question in 2012.
GSS has been tracking support for legalization since 1974, when support stood at only 19 percent, before falling during the Reagan years to a low of 16 percent by 1990. Support has gradually climbed since 1990, although it was only at 32 percent as recently as 2006, rising 20 points in the last decade.
Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center’s ongoing marijuana polling found 53 percent support nationwide for marijuana legalization in March of 2015, with 44 percent opposed. This includes 59 percent support among Democrats and 58 percent among self-described conservatives; but only 39 percent support among Republicans. Pew has recorded an astounding 11-point jump in support between the years of 2010 and 2013.
Sixty-nine percent of those polled believe alcohol is more harmful to the user than marijuana. And while 62 percent oppose public marijuana smoking, 82 percent have no problem if people smoke marijuana in their homes, and 57 percent say they would not be bothered if a marijuana store opened in their neighborhood.
Also, nearly half of all adults in the country (49 percent) say they have tried marijuana, with 12 percent using marijuana during the preceding year.
CBS News Poll
In a new poll released just before April 20, CBS News continued their periodic evaluation of the public support for legalizing marijuana, finding 53 percent of the public nationwide now favor ending prohibition, the highest level of support they have ever found. When CBS first surveyed the public in 1979, they found only 27 percent support. Revisiting the issue again starting in 2009, support levels had risen to 41 percent, finally reaching a slight majority (51 percent) by 2014. This latest finding is consistent with several other national polls.
Gallup first polled the American public about their support for legalizing marijuana in 1969, the year before NORML was founded, and determined the support level at only 12 percent. This number rose to 28 percent by 1977, before beginning a decline, falling to 23 percent by 1985. Support then again began to rise gradually over the next 25 years, until finally reaching 50 percent in 2011. Gallup found support peaking at 58 percent in 2013, before showing a decline to 51 percent in 2014. (Those numbers are within the 4 percent margin of error for their telephone survey of just over 1,000 respondents; and it is the only poll that has found a decline in support since 2013.)
Beyond the Beltway
Another recent survey of 1,032 interviews (with a margin of error of 3.05 percent), released in by Beyond the Beltway, a collaboration between the Benson Strategy Group and SKD Knickerbocker, found that 61 percent of the public currently support full legalization, with regulated sales as in Colorado and Washington, while 39 percent disagree. This is the highest national support level yet reported. Even 48 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of self-identified conservatives, said they support legalization. The support nationwide for eliminating the possibility of arrest and jail, and substituting a small fine, enjoyed the support of 72 percent.
A poll released in December of 2014 by a Washington, DC think tank called Third Way found support for full legalization at 50 percent, while 47 percent remained opposed. Interestingly, the poll also found 67 percent of those surveyed support Congress enacting a bill providing states the right to legalize marijuana without federal interference (the de facto Obama policy), establishing what they called a “safe haven” for those states wishing to move forward with legalization.
While 64 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of self-identified conservatives favored legalization, only 32 percent of Republicans agreed. The survey also confirmed a gender gap remains, with 52 percent of men supporting legalization, but only 45 percent of women.
Quinnipiac University Colorado Poll
A survey of 1,049 Colorado voters taken in February of 2015 shows that two years after Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, a solid majority of the public continue to support the new law. The survey found that 58 percent of Colorado voters support keeping pot legal, while 38 percent are opposed to the new law. There is no evidence of “buyers’ remorse” among the voters in Colorado.
The gender gap continues, with 63 percent of men in support, but only 53 percent (but still a majority) of women. The poll also found the usual generational gap, with 82 percent of voters ages 18-34 favoring it, while only 46 percent support among those 55 and above.
Survey USA Colorado Poll
After a year of legalized marijuana in Colorado, in a survey conducted for the Denver Post by Survey USA and released in late December 2014, 90 percent of those who had initially voted for legalization in 2012 would still do so today; and 95 percent of those who opposes the initiative would still oppose it today. Amendment 54 passed with 55 percent support.
Interestingly 12 percent of those interviewed said friends or family visiting from out of state had asked to visit a recreational marijuana shop. Twenty-two percent of respondents reported they currently use marijuana, with 70 percent of those saying their level of use had remained the same since the new law took effect. Seventy-eight percent of respondents ranked smoking marijuana as their favorite method of use; while 15 percent favored “vaping”, and 5 percent favored edibles.
Forty-five percent of current users say they get their marijuana from a recreational dispensary; 24 percent from a medical dispensary; 18 percent from a friend; 7 percent grow their own; and 6 percent continue to rely on a black-market dealer.
Because of the small numbers of voters asked their views on marijuana (175), the poll has a 6-7 percent margin of error.
Quinnipiac University Poll in Three Swing States
According to a March 2015 poll by Quinnipiac University, marijuana legalization is likely to become a crucial issue in three swing states in the 2016 presidential elections. Fifty-one percent of Pennsylvanians, 52 percent of Ohioan and 55 percent of Floridians report they favor legalization, a level of support higher than that registered for any of the current presidential candidate, including Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mario Rubio and Ted Cruz.
As any legitimate pollster will tell you, this data is accurate within a statistical range, depending on the number of people polled and the method of polling. So it is not perfectly precise data by any means, and is at best a snapshot of support at a particular moment. But it is nonetheless valuable as a gauge over time as to which direction the country is headed on a particular issue, and with marijuana legalization, support remains strong and the direction appears headed even higher.