Are The Majority Of Americans Really In Favor Of Pot Legalization?

By Kelly Burch 12/13/17

A new analysis takes a more detailed look at marijuana legalization polls.

marijuana flag in the middle of a pro-marijuana demonstration

It’s been widely reported that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization, with one Gallup poll released last fall showing that 64% of Americans feel that pot should be legal. However, a new poll suggests that Americans might not be as strongly in favor of legalized marijuana as those numbers suggest. 

The Washington Post reports that when marijuana is decriminalized and a state has a medical marijuana program, just 40% of voters support full-fledged legalization. The poll was commissioned by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization that opposes marijuana legalization. However, the Post notes, the poll was carried out by researchers at Emerson College, which has previously conducted polls for pro-legalization groups. The respondents do not know which organization is funding the study. 

The poll looked at 600 voters in New York state, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis and has a medical marijuana program.

First, voters were asked whether “the use of marijuana should be made legal for adults aged 21 and older.” Sixty percent said it should be, in line with both national polling and a similar poll conducted in New York state and funded by a pro-legalization group. That poll found that 62% of voters were in favor of legalization. 

However, the recent poll went a step further. Voters were then asked, “Knowing that personal marijuana possession is already decriminalized and medicalized in New York, which one of the following policies do you prefer?”

Only 40% of respondents were in favor of legalization, given that question. 

“The ’60% support’ was thus actually a mix of people who supported legalization and those who opposed it but wanted marijuana to be accessible to severely ill people, opposed criminal penalties for personal consumption, or both,” the Post reports. 

Just over 25% of respondents wanted to uphold current policy, and slightly fewer than that wanted to keep the medical program but repeal decriminalization. Just over 10% wanted to repeal both programs, making marijuana entirely illegal. 

The poll also found differences in age, gender and party affiliation, but no differences in approval rates for marijuana legalization based on race.

Women and voters ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be in favor of legalization. Independent voters were most likely to be in favor of legalization (with 71% in favor), followed up Democrats (61%) and finally Republicans (46%). 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.