Record-High 50% of Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana Use

Gallup | Oct. 17, 2011

Liberals and those 18 to 29 most in favor; Americans 65 and older most opposed

PRINCETON, NJ -- A record-high 50% of Americans now say the use of marijuana should be made legal, up from 46% last year. Forty-six percent say marijuana use should remain illegal.

When Gallup first asked about legalizing marijuana, in 1969, 12% of Americans favored it, while 84% were opposed. Support remained in the mid-20s in Gallup measures from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but has crept up since, passing 30% in 2000 and 40% in 2009 before reaching the 50% level in this year's Oct. 6-9 annual Crime survey.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the United States." The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 found that "16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed, an increase over the rates reported in all years between 2002 and 2008."

The advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws claims that marijuana is the third-most-popular recreational drug in America, behind only alcohol and tobacco. Some states have decriminalized marijuana's use, some have made it legal for medicinal use, and some officials, including former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, have called for legalizing its use.

A Gallup survey last year found that 70% favored making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana in order to reduce pain and suffering. Americans have consistently been more likely to favor the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes than to favor its legalization generally.

1969-2011 Trend: Support for Making Use of Marijuana Legal

Younger Americans Most in Favor of Legalizing Marijuana

Support for legalizing marijuana is directly and inversely proportional to age, ranging from 62% approval among those 18 to 29 down to 31% among those 65 and older. Liberals are twice as likely as conservatives to favor legalizing marijuana. And Democrats and independents are more likely to be in favor than are Republicans.

More men than women support legalizing the drug. Those in the West and Midwest are more likely to favor it than those in the South.

Support for Legalizing Use of Marijuana, by Subgroup, October 2011

Bottom Line

Support for legalizing marijuana has been increasing over the past several years, rising to 50% today -- the highest on record. If this current trend on legalizing marijuana continues, pressure may build to bring the nation's laws into compliance with the people's wishes.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 6-9, 2011, with a random sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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