Sixty percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, according to PBS News. It’s the highest percentage of Americans to support legalization since pollsters started keeping track in 1969.
Already recreational marijuana is legal in four states, including Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Pot is also legal in the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is legal in 20 other states. And, after the November election, five more states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, might have legalized recreational pot, while three more states, namely Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota, might also have legalized medical marijuana. Adding to the list, Montana is set to vote on easing restrictions on its own medical marijuana laws.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Two generations ago, the idea of legal marijuana anywhere in the U.S. was all but unthinkable, and Americans’ attitudes about it were reflected in the polling data. In 1969, when Gallup first asked Americans if they support legalizing pot, they were overwhelmingly against it, and only 12 percent supported legalization.
That ordinary Americans would be largely against legalizing pot in 1969 makes sense from a cultural/historical standpoint. At the time, marijuana was seen as a symbol of a much-maligned and vilified counter-culture.
Two years later in 1971, President Richard Nixon would go on to initiate the War on Drugs.
Nearly 30 years ago in 2000, Gallup once again polled Americans about pot legalization, and the majority were still against it. Only 31 percent supported legalization at the time. Asked again last year, 58 percent of Americans supported legalizing cannabis. Now in 2016, 60 percent of Americans support legalization, which is the highest number ever recorded.
Looking at the numbers a little more closely, you can see the votes for and against marijuana legalization seem to follow party lines and generational lines. Among respondents who identify as Democrats, 67 percent support legalization, while only 40 percent of Republicans support it. 70 percent of respondents who identify as Independents support marijuana legalization. Similarly, younger people tend to be more supportive of legalization than their older peers. Seventy-seven percent of adults aged 18-34 support legalizing pot, but only 45 percent of those 55 and older support legalization.
According to Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group, Marijuana Majority, these poll numbers bode well for statewide legalization initiatives this November.
“More politicians — presidential candidates included — would do themselves a big favor to take note of the clear trend.”
Regardless of what happens at the state level, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Legally, the Executive Branch could exercise its power and shut down every “legal” marijuana dispensary and grow operation in the country. As a practical matter, however, that’s unlikely to happen; at least, not during the Obama administration. Obama has directed the Justice Department not to interfere with pot in states where it’s legal, so long as steps are taken to keep it out of the hands of children, as Rolling Stone reported in 2013.
Beyond the Obama administration, the picture is less clear. Should Democrat Hillary Clinton win the election, High Times writer Russ Belville speculates that a Clinton administration would follow the current policy of turning a blind eye to state law when it comes to pot. He predicts that a Trump administration would be disastrous for states where pot is legal.
But what about legalization at the federal level? It probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. At best, federal legalization won’t happen until after the election, and the dust has settled in Washington. Even then, marijuana legalization isn’t likely to be a top priority in the near future.
Do you agree with the 60 percent of Americans who support marijuana legalization?
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