April 1, 2010

Public Support For Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Modest Rise in Percentage Favoring General Legalization

Overview

With a growing number of states moving to legalize medical marijuana, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they favor their state allowing the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes if it is prescribed by a doctor, while 23% are opposed. Support for legalizing medical marijuana spans all major political and demographic groups, and is equally high in states that have and have not already passed laws on this issue.

There are public concerns about legalizing medical marijuana. For example, 45% say they would be very or somewhat concerned if a store that sold medical marijuana opened near other stores in their area. And roughly the same percentage (46%) says allowing medical marijuana makes it easier for people to get marijuana even if they don’t have a real medical need – though just 26% of Americans say this is something that concerns them. These concerns are highest among opponents of legalizing medical marijuana, but are no higher or lower in states that already allow marijuana for medical purposes.

Far more Americans favor allowing marijuana for prescribed medical purposes than support a general legalization of marijuana. But the proportion who thinks the use of marijuana should be legal has continued to rise over the past two decades.

The most recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 10-14 among 1,500 adults on landlines and cell phones, finds that 41% of the public thinks the use of marijuana should be made legal while 52% do not. In 2008, 35% said it should be legal and 57% said the use of marijuana should not be legal, according to data from the General Social Survey. Twenty years ago, only 16% of the public said the use of marijuana should be legal and 81% said it should not be legal.

Seniors, Conservatives Less Supportive

Younger Americans are more likely than their older counterparts to favor legalizing marijuana for medical use, but a majority across all age groups supports this; 80% of those younger than 30 favor allowing medical marijuana compared with 63% who are ages 65 and older.

About six-in-ten (61%) Republicans favor permitting medical marijuana in their state compared with 76% of independents and 80% of Democrats. Conservative Republicans are the least likely to support legalization of medical marijuana; still, 54% favor this while 44% are opposed. At least three-fourths in all other partisan and ideological groups favor this.

People living in states where medical marijuana laws have not been passed are just as likely to favor the idea as those living in the 14 states where such laws have already been passed (72% vs. 74%).

An overwhelming percentage (95%) of those who support general legalization of marijuana favor the sale and use of medical marijuana in their state. Yet even a majority (55%) of those who do not favor general legalization of marijuana say that the sale and use of medical marijuana should be allowed.

Does Medical Marijuana Lead to Broader Access?

The public is divided about whether legalizing marijuana for medical purposes inherently increases access to marijuana more generally: 46% say allowing medical marijuana makes it easier for people to get marijuana even if they don’t have a real medical need, while 48% think it doesn’t make a difference. When those who believe it does make it easier are asked whether this concerns them or not, just over half – representing 26% of the total public – say they are very or somewhat concerned about this, while 20% of Americans think this might happen but are not concerned about it.

About seven-in-ten Americans (71%) who oppose allowing medical marijuana in their state say this makes it easier for others to get access, and 53% say they are very or somewhat concerned about this. By contrast, just 39% of those who favor legalizing medical marijuana believe it leads to easier access for non-medical purposes, and only 18% are concerned. People living in states that currently allow medical marijuana are no more or less likely to see the policy as making it easier for people to get marijuana even if they don’t have a real medical need. There also are no differences in levels of concern between those living in states that have legalized medical marijuana and those that have not.

About a quarter (27%) of Americans say they would be very concerned if a store that sold medical marijuana opened up near other stores in their area, and 17% would be somewhat concerned. But a majority (54%) say they would be not too (20%) or not at all concerned (34%). Opponents of legalizing medical marijuana are far more likely to be at least somewhat concerned about this (81%) than supporters (32%). But again, there is no greater or less concern about medical marijuana stores in states that have legalized medical marijuana compared with states that have not.

Support for Legalization of Marijuana Continues to Grow

In terms of the public’s views about the general legalization of marijuana, 41% think the use of marijuana should be made legal while 52% don’t think it should be legal. These findings are similar to a Gallup Survey conducted in October 2009 that found 44% saying the use of marijuana should be made legal and 54% saying it should not be legal. Support for legalizing marijuana is the highest it has been in 40 years of polling on this issue.

In 1969, only 12% said the use of marijuana should be made legal. Support grew to a peak of 30% in 1978, and then declined over the course of the 1980s to a low of 16% by 1987. Since that time, the proportion of Americans who think marijuana should be made legal has been steadily increasing, to 31% in 2000 and 41% today.

Young People, Liberals Most Likely to Support Legalization

There are substantial demographic differences in opinions about the legalization of marijuana. A majority (58%) of those younger than 30 think that the use of marijuana should be made legal. That compares with 42% of those ages 30 to 49, 40% of those 50 to 64, and just 22% of those 65 and older.

While men are evenly divided over whether the use of marijuana should be legal (45% yes, 47% no), most women (57%) oppose legalization.

Fully 71% of Republicans – including 77% of conservative Republicans – oppose the legalization or marijuana. By contrast, Democrats are evenly divided, with a majority of liberal Democrats (57%) in favor of legalizing the use of marijuana. about half of independents (49%) favor legalizing the use of marijuana while 44% are opposed.

People living in states where medical marijuana laws already have been passed are more likely than those living in other states to support a more general legalization of marijuana (48% vs. 39%). Those who have tried marijuana are more than twice as likely as those who have not to favor legalization (64% vs. 25%).

Increased Support for Legalization Among Democrats and Independents

Although independents and Democrats have generally been more likely than Republicans to support legalization of marijuana over the past 40 years, the partisan gap on this issue has increased substantially since 2000. Democrats and independents are far more likely to say that marijuana should be made legal than they were 10 years ago while the views of Republicans are virtually unchanged.

Nearly half of Democra
ts (48%) and independents (49%) now support the legalization of marijuana. In 2000, 29% of Democrats and 35% of independents said the use of marijuana should be made legal. By comparison, 24% of Republicans support legalization now, similar to the 26% who favored this a decade ago.

Who Has Tried Marijuana?

Four-in-ten Americans say they have ever tried marijuana while 58% have not. Men are more likely than women to have tried marijuana – nearly half (48%) of men have tried marijuana compared with only 31% of women.

There also are substantial age differences. About half (49%) of young people admit to having tried marijuana, as do 47% of those ages 30 to 49 and 42% ages 50 to 64. By comparison, only 11% of people age 65 and older say they have ever tried marijuana.

Fewer Republicans than Democrats and independents say they have ever tried marijuana. About a third (32%) of Republicans admit to having tried marijuana compared with 41% of Democrats and 44% of independents. Conservative Republicans are the least likely to report trying marijuana (26%), compared with at least four-in-ten in all other partisan and ideological groups.