CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
11 months ago

CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring

Washington (CNN) - In a major turnaround from past decades, a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll.

The CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also indicated that the number of people who say smoking pot is morally wrong has plunged.

Fifty-five percent of those questioned nationally said marijuana should be made legal, with 44% disagreeing.

The CNN/ORC findings are similar to a Gallup poll conducted in October.

According to the CNN poll and numbers from General Social Survey polling, support for legalizing marijuana has steadily soared over the past quarter century - from 16% in 1987 to 26% in 1996, 34% in 2002, and 43% two years ago.

The survey found interesting divides on the issue.

"There are big differences on age, region, party ID, and gender, with senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Two-thirds of those 18 to 34 said marijuana should be legal, with 64% of those 34 to 49 in agreement.

Half of those 50 to 64 believe marijuana should be legal, but that number dropped to 39% for those age 65 and older.

Support stood at 60% in the Northeast, 58% in the West, 57% in the Midwest, but just 48% in the South. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 59% of Independents, but just 36% of Republicans, backed legalizing marijuana. Fifty-nine percent of men but just 51% of women supported making pot legal.

Attitudes have dramatically changed

Why has support for legalizing marijuana tripled since the 1970s and 1980s?

"Attitudes toward the effects of marijuana and whether it is morally wrong to smoke pot have changed dramatically over time," said Holland. "That also means that marijuana use is just not all that important to Americans any longer."

In 1972, about a year after President Richard Nixon declared drugs "public enemy Number One," 65% said the use of marijuana was a very serious problem for the United States. Now that is down to 19%.

The number who said marijuana is a gateway drug (47%), is down 23 points since 1972. The number who said marijuana is addictive (50%), is down 10 points. And the number who said marijuana is physically harmful (43%) is down 23 points.

"Clearly there are some reservations about marijuana, but not the widespread fear that existed during the original War on Drugs in the 1970s," added Holland.

The biggest change indicated by the poll reflected the number of people who said smoking pot is morally wrong. In 1987, 70% said it was, making it a sin in the minds of more Americans than abortion or pornography.

Now, that number has been halved - just 35% today said smoking marijuana is morally wrong.

Widespread agreement that it is not morally wrong may be one of the bigger drivers of the pro-legalization movement.

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International, from January 3-5, with 1,010 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

soundoff (503 Responses)
  1. Wilford Brimley

    "There are big differences on age, region, party ID, and gender, with senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot." Seems about right.

    January 7, 2014 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  2. bripp

    I really don't see the big deal, its less harmful for you then tabbaco or alcohol, and If I want to sit at home, smoke some pot, watch tv and go to sleep, what's wrong with that?

    January 7, 2014 01:17 am at 1:17 am |
  3. Steve Johnson

    This is not really shocking. People were lied to aggressively over a period of decades regarding the dangers of the drug. You can only keep up a big lie for so long before it falls under its own weight. It takes a lot of effort to keep something like that going.

    On top of that, you had cultural backlash reacting to the hippie movement, reflexively opposing everything "those people" supported or enjoyed.

    January 7, 2014 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  4. Jerry harris

    It's a god made plant and it's here for a reason.We Just have to find that reason?

    January 7, 2014 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  5. Jonathan

    Well. What BS! Southerners and Republicans are in opposition? The ones that I know have wondered for years why it was illegal and not vice versa. Cotton farmers and wood paper barons were the ones that ha it made illegal to start with, back in the Twenties under the leadership of William Randolph Hearst. He had huge tracts of timber for pulp for his newspaper that would have devalued had hemp and it cousin been made legal.

    January 7, 2014 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  6. shawbrooke

    Lots of people in Alaska and Holland wanted legalization too. They changed their laws when the costs became impossible to ignore. I don't want higher taxes and my guess is that most other people don't either.

    January 7, 2014 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  7. Kristy Sinsara

    The fact that people are still arguing over pot just goes to show how uneducated most Americans are. I am not a pot smoker myself...but I am very aware that pot is safer than alcohol in every single way...but NOOOOOOO, it's a "drug". Stupid religious people.

    January 7, 2014 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  8. Wayne

    Senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners together account for something like 80% of all voters.

    January 7, 2014 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  9. K Cummings

    Yeah, let's legalize marijuana and I cant even get a month's supply of decongestant/allergy medication. What's wrong with this picture?

    January 7, 2014 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  10. Bob Khane

    The beginning of the end. The majority think sodomy is not a sin. The majority think drugs is not a sin. The majority think adultery is is not a sin. The majority worship Greed. I choose GOD. Sodomy is evil. Adultery is evil. Excess alcohol is evil. Greed is evil.

    January 7, 2014 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  11. Greenspam

    Make pot legal, make guns legal, make online poker legal, and make abortion legal.

    January 7, 2014 02:03 am at 2:03 am |
  12. Talk from CO

    Since the "legalization" of drugs in Colorado I have personally experienced more aggressive attitudes by the drug crazed society here, if this is what you want in life then continue to fry your brains and come join the ruins we now call The Miles High State. For those who say the pot is a mellowing drug, I beg to differ.

    January 7, 2014 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  13. marya

    I'm surprised your poll shows Southerners rejecting the legalization of marijuana. I live in SC & will be 67 yrs. old this yr. I think it should be legalized & taxed. I know many people who feel the same way. I'm hoping it's legalized in every state & if it is made legal in ours I'm going to buy a bag.

    January 7, 2014 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  14. Daniel

    I question those stats. I am fine with making it legal and taxing it. But the area of the country I am in it would never pass.

    January 7, 2014 02:22 am at 2:22 am |
  15. Bridget

    Interesting. This article was posted six hours ago and no one has been compelled to comment. I guess that supports the article's contention that this issue just is not a big deal anymore in the US.

    January 7, 2014 02:24 am at 2:24 am |
  16. Terry B

    Out of the hundreds of people that I have known though out the years I have only met two that hadn't tried it. I would say that at least 90 percent would like to see it legalized for adults. The reason, why not? Other than keeping harmless people who sell it out of prison, as well as not allowing certain criminals from beating the unwinnable war on drugs which has constantly proven to be useless and an expensive waste of money.

    January 7, 2014 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  17. Talk from CO

    Legalization in Colorado has resulted in larger road rage problems. Those who claim it mellows people are providing false information.

    January 7, 2014 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  18. Richard

    I'm not sure about making pot legal becsuase some health experts say it is a gateway drug, but I am strongly opposed to sending anyone to jail or prison for using or selling pot. That said, dealers could and should be prosecuted and sent to prison for evading income taxes if they do so.

    January 7, 2014 03:01 am at 3:01 am |
  19. Randy

    God's noble herb comes to power.

    January 7, 2014 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  20. Elena

    Marijuana shouldn never be legalize because this is a drug hay is use to get a high , well it is use too for for sick people as well but it should only be use for sick people only just the smell of marijuana is disgusting as well as cigarate too , our children are growing up in thinking this is a super great idea making it legal not knowing the consequences of the after effects of marijuana there are no moral values anymore in the world we live in, not everything we think is good is not always a good thing

    January 7, 2014 03:20 am at 3:20 am |
  21. 1811

    I was employed by the DEA beginning in 1976 and retiring last year and served in a number of domestic and international assignments and I've been seeing this coming for years. I have been watching the events in Colorado and Washington state and I am convinced if it works in those states, you're going to see a runaway freight train going down the tracks and other states race to do the same.

    Some of the factors driving this are the ability to tax this stuff and we also have a new generation that wasn't born in 1972 who see absolutely nothing wrong with smoking it, so generational attitudes have shifted away from enforcement and instead toward regulation and control. In Washington, we've estimated that 80 percent of all illegal drug profits comes from marijuana so legalization of marijuana would bankrupt the Mexican cartels rather quickly.

    And this also brings into question the future functions of DEA. Historically, our largest conspiracy investigations were always nee weed cases. When Colorado announced what it was going to do, Attorney General Holder held a press conference to announce there would still be marijuana enforcement of U.S. Drug laws against marijuana, but just before Christmas they announced the DOJ was not going to sue Colorado and Washington over this, which means the Feds just rolled over and played dead. So it will be interesting to watch this scenario and see how it plays out......

    January 7, 2014 03:21 am at 3:21 am |
  22. Dave

    Hi, I would say, It should make it illegal, why I say that because I know that when you smoke you will get addicted and you will smoke more and more, and it 's too expensive to buy if you don't make a lot of money, what will happen when you don't have money to buy to smoke ? people will rob, steal, cheating and to kill people, do whatever it takes to get money to buy to smoke, you've already seen that in the bad people who dealt with drugs, they rob, kill, steal from people just to do drugs and alcohol. so to me it should make it illegal to smoke pot.

    January 7, 2014 03:22 am at 3:22 am |
  23. Erik

    If you don't support marijuana prohibition, nullify the law when you have to sit on a jury for a marijuana case. Just refuse to convict, regardless of the evidence.

    January 7, 2014 03:24 am at 3:24 am |
  24. Chuck Rogers

    THe lies of a Government bent on helping Big Corps make money are waning.It is time to go in a new direction ,as the War on Drugs is a hopeless miserable failure.Folks are tired of the stigma attached to cannabis use,when the dangers of cannabis have been lied about.People are not stupid and its tiring to see them treated as such.Cannabis literally saved me from an early death.I developed Fibromyalgia and degenerative joint disease and needed to go on high does opiate therapy.It brought on cyclic vomiting and I lost 170lbs in a little more than a year.For 6 months I could only consume Tapioca puddings and Pepsi Cola,not easy when one is an insulin dependant diabetic.I tried every anti emetic known to medicine.From Phenergan suppositories to Zofran and nothing worked.I finally decided to go to cannabis and I never looked back.I was prescribed Marinol because cannabis seemed to work so well and I was frightened to use it.But Marinol did 2 things cannabis didnt.I get paranoid on Marinol so much so that I cannot leave my home.And it is next to impossible to swallow a pill whilst vomiting.So Cannabis works synergistically with opiates to control my pain and help me sleep and to have appetite.I could replace all my pain meds and half my other meds for cannabis saving my wifes insurance thousands of dollars.It is time to put away the lying liars and the lies the tell club.Legalize cannabis,so many can benefit.Senior..arthritis.Children..epilepsy..the list goes on.Free the Weed for those in need!

    January 7, 2014 03:42 am at 3:42 am |
  25. DC

    I'm not opposed to recreational pot because it's dangerous per se. I'm opposed to it because it smells like **** and easily becomes a public nuisance. I was at a Seattle bar this past weekend and a bunch of stoners were toking right outside the open door entrance. What can you do about it in WA these days? Nothing – it's legal

    January 7, 2014 03:48 am at 3:48 am |
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