Is the Pro-Pot Movement Changing How the U.S. Feels About Weed?

By May Wilkerson 05/19/15

New research shows that marijuana advocates could be changing public opinion.

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That's probably not helping. Shutterstock

The pro-marijuana movement is changing American attitudes towards marijuana, with tides shifting in favor of legalization, according to new research.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 53% of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal, reflecting the findings of other recent studies. But in a follow-up survey, researchers asked whether survey-takers had held these views in the past or if their attitudes towards pot had changed. They found that about 40% of those in support of legalization used to feel differently, compared to only 16% of opponents. Only 7% of the overall population said they used to be in favor of marijuana legalization and now oppose it.

The new findings suggest that the marijuana legalization movement has successfully changed many Americans’ minds. "The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform," said Tom Angell, chairman of pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority.

When pot supporters were asked why they are pro-legalization, 41% cited medicinal benefits and 36% said they believe marijuana is no more harmful than legal drugs, like alcohol or cigarettes.

Pot opponents said they believe marijuana harms society or individuals, or that it’s dangerous and addictive. Surprisingly, 19% said marijuana should be illegal simply “because it is illegal.”

As far as people using marijuana in the privacy of their own homes, an overwhelming 82% of those polled said they were fine with this. On both sides of the debate, 57% of all Americans said they wouldn’t mind a marijuana business opening up in their neighborhood. But smoking in public was more divisive, with 62% saying they would be bothered by public toking.

Pew researchers also found that support of legalization is about equal between Democrats (59% in favor) and Independents (58%), compared to only 39% of Republicans. Most people from all sides of the political spectrum believe the federal government should not interfere with states’ legalization efforts: 58% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans, 64% of Independents, and even 38% of legalization opponents agree with this.

Based on these numbers, coming out in support of legalization could give Democratic Presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton a boost in her campaign, or at least not harm her chances.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.