In 1988, only 24% of Americans supported federal cannabis legalization. Opinions have shifted immensely since then, with 21 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., already having rolled out recreational markets and four states looking like hopeful contenders this year. Hailed by many and opposed by plenty, the subject of marijuana legalization is a controversial one, to say the least.
Nonetheless, with research into the plant’s pharmaceutical powers stacking up—cannabis has been proven to possess analgesic, anxiolytic, and anti-inflammatory effects—and state-legal markets reaping a slew of economic rewards—nationwide revenue topped $27 billion in 2021—it’s not surprising that U.S. citizens are keener than ever for a fully legal market to blossom in the near future.
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The ever-growing support for U.S. cannabis legalization was discussed by Pew Research Center in a recent report. Analysts from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank gathered the following seven facts about America’s ever-changing attitudes towards the formerly “taboo” drug:
- Support for marijuana legalization has surged over the last two decades: Compared with the results of a Gallup survey that was conducted in 2000, the number of Americans who support cannabis legalization has increased by more than double. This is based on data gleaned by Pew Research in 2019 when two-thirds of Americans backed legalization. It’s likely that we will see even more support for cannabis reform when the latest results are published.
- Nine-in-10 Americans think marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational purposes: This was the key takeaway from a different Pew Research Center survey that was published in October 2022. The results revealed that 88% of U.S. adults believe that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes, while 30% said it should be legal for medical use only.
- Public support for marijuana legalization varies by age, ethnicity, political party, and race: Adults aged 75 and above are much less likely to support complete cannabis legalization than younger adults. This is according to the findings of the same 2022 survey mentioned above. As per the results, 3 in 10 adults aged 75 and above said that cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational purposes, while 53% of adults 65 to 74 said the same. Contrastingly, 72% of adults below the age of 30 supported both medical and recreational legalization. From a political point of view, 73% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents supported legalization, compared with 45% of Republicans and GOP leaners. In regards to race, 68% of black adults and 60% of white adults supported medical and recreational legalization, compared with 49% of Hispanics and 48% of Asian Americans.
- Advocates and opponents have interesting views on legalization: Industry analysts from Pew Research also pulled statistics from a 2019 Gallup survey for their report. The survey highlighted two main reasons why supporters want legalization—the perceived medical benefits (86%) and the prospect of freeing up extra time for law enforcement to deal with other areas of crime (70%). Among those who disagreed with legalization, 79% felt concerned about cannabis-related road safety issues, while 69% were worried that legalization could trigger a spike in other types of drug addictions.
- Majority of Americans want to ease penalties for marijuana convicts: An October 2021 Pew Research Center survey discovered that two-thirds of adults support laws to release people who are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses only. Additionally, approximately six-in-10 adults (61%) wanted marijuana-related offenses erased or expunged from people’s criminal records. These changes were most likely to be supported by Democrats and younger adults. Additionally, 74% of Black Americans were more likely to support these changes than people from any other racial or ethnic backgrounds.
- Less than half of U.S. adults have tried marijuana: In spite of growing support for marijuana legalization and a rapidly evolving legal landscape across the U.S., a 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 46% of U.S. adults have never even tried the plant in any form. Other substances seem to be more widely used by the general population, including alcohol (78%) and tobacco products (57%). The same survey showed that 19% of U.S. adults had consumed marijuana in the past year, and 13% had dabbled in the green stuff within the past month.
- Almost half of the U.S. map has legal weed: As of April 2023, 21 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized small quantities of cannabis for recreational purposes. This was reported by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). To put things into perspective, estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that around 48% of Americans now reside in a jurisdiction where adult-use cannabis is legal.