Support for Legalization Continues to Grow Into The Future

Public policy, in a democracy, depends on the will of a majority of the citizens. Only when a clear majority favor a change in policy can that change occur, and even then, when working with elected legislators, these is always a significant lag between a change in the public attitudes, and a change in public policy. Most elected officials, with an eye towards being re-elected, find it safer to vote for the status quo, until it is unavoidably obvious they are on the losing side.

Fortunately, in half the states citizens have the option of going around their elected state legislatures and changing public policy by a voter initiative – a direct vote of the people. Which explains how the marijuana legalization movement has been so successful over the last few years. As public attitudes have increasingly shifted against prohibition, and in support of legalization, we have had the ability to ask the citizens in several states to approve legalization, despite the trepidation of their state elected officials.

And that has allowed us to enact legalization in a few states several years earlier than would have been the case if we would have had to move the proposal through the state legislature. For that, we are truly benefiting from the successes of the Progressive movement of an earlier era, for the concept of a voter initiative.

The Latest Gallup Poll

But none of that matters unless a proposed change in policy enjoys the support of a majority of the public. And as the latest Gallup Poll results underscored, the support for legalizing marijuana continues to increase, and there is every reason to believe that trend will only increase in the coming years. And the political implications of that are obvious.

More specifically, this latest Gallup Poll found that 58 percent of the public nationwide now support the full legalization of marijuana, matching the highest level of support Gallup has ever found over 46 years of polling on the question.

Gallup first polled the American public about their support for legalizing marijuana in 1969, the year before NORML was founded, and found the support level at only 12 percent. That 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 then rebounding to 58 percent again in 2015.

These latest 2015 findings were overwhelmingly favorable in all age groups, with a majority level of support in all age categories, except seniors (my own group), and even there we are showing big gains.

Younger Americans, Democrats and independents are the most likely to favor legalizing cannabis, while Republicans and Americans over the age of 65 are least likely to do so. Among those poll respondents age 18 to 34, 71 percent endorse legalization. Among respondents age 35 to 49 years of age, 64 percent support legalizing marijuana. Among those age 65 and up, support fell to 35 percent, but this too reflected a sharp increase in support.

We Are Outliving Our Opponents

At NORML we have often joked that our strategy, if all else failed (and there were certainly decades when we were making very little measurable progress), was to out-live our opponents. We were only partially kidding, as we were aware that younger Americans were far more supportive of legalization than were older Americans, and eventually we would win.

The most significant implications of this latest Gallup data is the likelihood that this trend will continue for many years in the future, as more seniors are replaced by younger Americans, making it possible for us in the next few years to adopt legalization in many more states that offer a voter initiative; and importantly, in many other states that do not, by way of the state legislature. Even elected officials can only ignore the will of the public for so long, before either supporting that change, or being replaced by those who do. It is only a matter of time.

The poll’s authors suggested the future looks positive for those who favor legalization. “Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future. … These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.”

Or as NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano has pointed out, continuing to support marijuana prohibition is now a “fringe position” in America. “These results ought to embolden campaigning politicians, as well as elected officials, to take a more pronounced stance in favor of legalizing and regulating cannabis in a manner that is consistent with the desires of the majority of their constituents.”


This is an important point to keep in mind when thinking about who might be elected the next US president, and whether that individual will continue “the Obama policy” of allowing the states to determine their own marijuana policy, without interference from the federal government. With support for full legalization reaching nearly 60 percent nationwide, it will be difficult, and likely politically impossible, for the next president to change that policy, regardless of her/his personal views.

We have, after a long and sometimes frustrating public debate covering several decades, finally won the hearts and minds of a majority of the American public, and with that, the power to move marijuana legalization forward full speed, until it is the law of the land. We are now the majority.

It’s a wonderful time to be a marijuana smoker.

9 thoughts

  1. “Public policy, in a democracy, depends on the will of a majority of the citizens.”

    That’s why America is a Constitutional Republic – and never supposed to be a democracy.

    What if 90% of Americans voted for, say, an ethnic genocide? Or, even to repeal the Bill of Rights, for instance? You know that is why democracy is both catastrophic and technically forbidden, in America’s, “Constitutional Republic.”

    Democracy is like two wolves and a sheep, voting on a dinner menu!

    Our Constitutional Republic precludes “marihuana” prohibition, with, for instance, the 10th Amendment.

    It’s the difference of what they ‘can’ versus ‘may not’ do. Remember, Sir Keith, that America has always been supposed to enact strict criminal statutes, for violating the Constitution; this has been unfinished, from the beginning.

    It’s ironic that we must resort to grassroots voter democracy, today, to end the ‘illegal’ prohibition.

    To that end, I’ll always have been 100% supportive, and grateful for such majority support, like today’s!

  2. Keith, you are doing your best marijuana writing as a ‘senior’. I don’t want to lose any of my friends in that generation however they feel about pot. I would rather our remaining detractors got on board and enjoyed the many benefits cannabis offers for the elderly. I cannot look forward to the passing of so many friends and family members, whatever it means for drug policy. That said, our cause being on the ascendancy is good news. What was it Eric Schlosser said? “This war is over, if you want it.” And now a majority wants it. Thanks for another good article. Regards, Brent

  3. The ReformCA initiative proposes allowing a 100 square foot area for homegrown. The allowed amount of weed that can be harvested as homegrown (Article 3, 26011.c) would be the “results of any lawfully harvested homegrown cannabis pursuant to this Article”. However just one ounce is allowed pursuant to this Article (Article 3, 26011.a). Also, Article 2, 26003.d.2 says “Unlawful cultivation occurs when: Cannabis is cultivated beyond the personal use amounts delineated in Section 26011 without a license to do so.” So, what is the unambiguous amount for a non-licensed homegrown delineated in Section 26011?

  4. I’ve never liked smoking marijuana but I have always liked the effect; 99% of the time anyway…

    These days I am very happy to have a nice vaporizer! I believe it is a far superior choice both for the effect and for one’s health.

    Of course, I, like any reasonable person that believes in personal rights, would never deny those who choose to smoke it the right to do so.

  5. “[Federal Marijuana Legalization] is only a matter of time.”
    And what a fascinating time it is, Keith. To Paul, Allen and everyone at NORML who have fought so hard to finally see results, from the bottom of America’s heart down here in Texas I salute you all to a great congratulations and Thank y’all for all the years of hard work; The harder the battle the sweeter the victory!

    Only hard work and stubborn civil disobedience to the treacherous Controlled Substances Act of 1970 could lead us to this point, and my grandchildren will know the stories of how a few American heroes working down K street never gave up… Heck, for Keith that meant 15 years of NOTHING through the eighties! If anything it was more prohibition! Now we’re finally beginning to let nonviolent prisoners go for simple possessions. (How did you get THROUGH that? Does marijuana cure “giving up” syndrome?)
    The best is yet to come! Thank you NORML!

  6. My dad voted for legalization in Colorado in 2012 and he was 80. He never used mj in his life. He had friends that did and he knew I did once in a while. But mostly he didn’t believe people should be punished for doing something that made them happy without hurting anyone else. Unfortunately we lost my dad in April of this year. He helped make history before he left this earth. I take comfort in knowing that. I am sure there are lots of people his age that believes in freedom the way he did.

  7. Thankx @Don M for mentioning Vaporizer, the concept and utensil deserve max advertising especially now IF the prospect of legality is as good as Gallup here gusheth.

    One reason prohibition survived decades is that Monoxide Combustion $igarette companies funneled $campaign Money to politicians who would keep cannabis illegal. Possessing or carrying bulky or visible “Paraphernalia” such as one-hitters with a “tell-tale tail” plastic drawtube on them has been a way of getting snooped out, arrested, punished as a marijuana offender, while a Joint was easy to hide, quickly disposed of before going somewhere you dare not have it (and this twenty-tokes-in-few-minutes overdosage went with ignorant self-assurance that nothing was being wa$ted, “you’ll get it all” etc.).

    Now as soon as the in$ane penalties for possession of harm reduction utensils are truly removed is time to move forward, recruit or import thousands of laborers from Amerrica’s pri$ons or $yria or wherever, and manufacture/market enough billion one-hitters worldwide to

    (a) eliminate HBOM Joint, Blunt, $pliff etc. from use,

    (b) incite imitation of progressive cannabis users by a billion tobacco users, eliminating the monoxide combustion niggotine $igarette, #1 preventable plague in human history with near 200,000,000 deaths since 1853,

    (c) win Keith and other NORMLeaders that $1.5-mil. Knowitwell Prize for Preventive Medication.

  8. It is obvious from a textual point-of-view that the current federal
    definition of “marihuana” is a circumlocutory farce. It is also clear
    that from a political point-of-view that it is the People who must
    defend our Constitution against the confusion created by that omnibus
    definition, which the government created with support from the
    corporations. The question has always been how. The Necessary and
    Proper clause is the way out of the mess created by that definition.

    That definition is neither a necessary nor a proper definition, which
    is why it is failing all around us, yet it still lingers in its cruel
    existence. That definition must be reformed to identify the obvious
    reality of marijuana, and doing so will educate our legislators and
    our children to the benefits of cannabis, while conceding to the
    prevalent dislike of marijuana which so many have.

    This simple definition will support each of the points that cannabis
    activists and marijuana detractors have been advocating:

    16.a. The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by
    the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L.

    In addition, this new text provides a minor restraint which will
    lessen the fears of “Big Cannabis” overtaking the right which so many
    people have been fighting for:

    16.b. Corporations remain prohibited from growing Cannabis sativa L.

    Let the well prepared discussions about the rescheduling of
    “marijuana” be subsequent.

    This year is a good time to call for these reforms to that
    contemptuous marijuana law. With no shots fired, you could
    collectively be heroes in the defense of our Constitution!

  9. Cannabis legalization efforts are gaining momentum due to personal experiences showing how far from reality is the authorities rendition and definitions.

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