CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
8 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. John Thomas

    Everyone who has been paying attention knows marijuana is less "addictive" than coffee and FAR less harmful than alcohol. Indeed, polls show public support for ending marijuana prohibition has now passed 50 percent – nationwide. So why did this barbaric persecution drag on so long?

    Because police, prosecutors and politicians build their careers and empires on it. Because industries like alcohol and pharmaceuticals don't want the competition. Because other interests like the drug treatment/testing industry and the prison industries depend on it for their life's blood. Because many shaky corporations couldn't exist without the laundered money.

    The billions of dollars made by drug gangs has not been buried in the ground. They are invested in legitimate business, causing another huge support of this persecution of millions of innocent people.

    For a good view underneath the ice burg, see Catherine Austin Fitts' excellent article: "Narco Dollars For Beginners." – keeping in mind that while Fitts employs cocaine because it best suits her metaphor, FBI statistics show marijuana sales comprise 80 percent of all "illegal" drug transactions.

    Thank goodness we are finally dismantling the marijuana-prohibition-industrial-police-criminal complex!

    January 7, 2014 03:52 am at 3:52 am |
  2. Bruce

    I can't ever take it, because of the type of work I do, but as I get older I feel more aches and pain and stress.

    If this relieves pain, and has less side effects than alcohol, then why not? It seems to me that smoking anything is bad for your trachea and lungs, but this can be ingested as a pill or ate. If you don't drive, and its by consenting adults it should be a persons choice. Why do we have all these poor people in prison now on marijuana charges ?

    January 7, 2014 04:17 am at 4:17 am |
  3. Once a Democrap now a realist

    Mehh once the cartel starts fire bombing the pot dealer and legal growers........ ( and you all know they will) to secure there business. People will revert to illegal pot like the old days.
    Keep in mind there is a stat that says allmost 100million southAmericans have a small "something" to do with the drug trade......you think tell let us grow our own? LOL

    January 7, 2014 04:35 am at 4:35 am |
  4. Judy Yhomas

    no punishment except for minors but legalize it? NUTS. We are dumb enough already and I lost all respect for Colorado

    January 7, 2014 04:41 am at 4:41 am |
  5. litllebit

    legalize it and watch alcoholics stop drinking or just maybe cut back a little. this is why big alcohol companies are so against legalizing pot. alcohol sales will fall.

    January 7, 2014 04:46 am at 4:46 am |
  6. Watch - the Conservatives will say you should mistrust the people

    unless they have a majority who doesn't want gay marriage – and THEN they'll say that the Will of the People should be listened to.

    It's called SELECTIVE SELECTIVITY. Yeah – it's redundant and repetitive, but a Republican coined it, so whaddaya gonna do? Myself, I'd rather call it what it is: hypocrisy.

    January 7, 2014 04:49 am at 4:49 am |
  7. Richard

    Why not wait a year and see how the Colorado experiment shakes out? Guess what? It won't make a dent in crime because it sure didn't in Europe.

    January 7, 2014 04:54 am at 4:54 am |
  8. Anonymous

    It's about time to legalize it. Too many have been paid the price for using this natural herb. How about a war on some of the big problems in this country, i.e war on jobless, war on 1 in 6 american children under feed, or the abuse young & old, the list of important things go on from us the people seeing or living it. The money spent to stop this widely used herb. WHAT A WASTE!! Get over it moral minority. LETS PUT OUR EFFORTS AND MONEY TOWARDS OUR BIGGEST PROBLEMS.

    January 7, 2014 04:54 am at 4:54 am |
  9. Gaunt

    Colorado is a test case, and will likely lead to legalization in many states. Not because of any verdict on the danger or non-danger of pot, but simply because of the colossal amount of state revenue pot sales will generate.

    January 7, 2014 04:56 am at 4:56 am |
  10. gary

    Yes. Legalize pot everywhere.

    January 7, 2014 04:59 am at 4:59 am |
  11. Matt

    I'm a far right wing southern tea party guy, and guess what? I think pot be legal and sold like alcohol is.

    January 7, 2014 05:03 am at 5:03 am |
  12. P1Gunter

    Not my drug of choice, but who am I to stop those enjoy it? We've all seen this coming for a few decades now. Like most progressive issues, it is just a matter of waiting for the olds to become deads. Gay marriage is exactly the same way. Conservatives can scream and fight all they want, but both are happening.

    January 7, 2014 05:10 am at 5:10 am |
  13. george schneider

    It's about time to "legalize it". The time & money spent for making millions of americans pay the price for growing & using this herb should be stopped. We have bigger problems to put our time & money towards, how about a war on the jobless, or war on the 1 ~ 6 american children under feed, war on the abuse of young & old. We the citizens of this great country expect more from our elected leaders to make oppurtunities for jobs, feeding our children & protecting our young & old. Get over it moral minorities, the tide has turned & the truth of this herb is better than the fiction sold to Americans over the last hundred years. $80 billion a year tax payer money spent on this, wow Washington D.C , what a waste !!!! And who's been saying we are the ones wasted?

    January 7, 2014 05:16 am at 5:16 am |
  14. ChrisM

    After only six days of pot being legal in Colorado. Colorado is running out of pot

    January 7, 2014 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
  15. Kevin

    At the very least, pardon all those who have ever been arrested or jailed for its use in the past.

    January 7, 2014 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  16. Eric

    As a supporter of marijuana legalization, the internal number that I find most satisfying and encouraging is the 64% support of those 35 to 49. These are people that probably have children yet still support liberalized marijuana laws. To me this is the strongest sign from the poll that this shift in public opinion is a permanent trend.

    January 7, 2014 06:12 am at 6:12 am |
  17. bassman

    If you grew up in the 60's you lived your life saying "if it feels good do it". Under Pres. Obama's leadership America is becoming a Godless nation. That we be part of his legacy.

    January 7, 2014 06:39 am at 6:39 am |
  18. Chauncy

    With so many Americans out of work or working part time they need a new hobby.

    January 7, 2014 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  19. Don B.

    The most interesting change to me is that support from women is now over 50% for the first time. As more baby boomers reach the 65+ bracket, support from them will also grow–I'm one of those, and Cannabis is actually a blessing for us as we age.

    January 7, 2014 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  20. Dan

    The change in attitude is one thing but using the change / support for a greater good would be even better. Need to legalize it and use the taxation as a source to reduce the federal deficit, fund shortfalls in social security and Medicare.
    Must be a funding source that no politicians can gain access to or can get their sticky little fingers on. We need another source of funds to make up for the lack of financial responsibility we have seen in the last 15-20 years. The candidate who can get this done will get my vote...no matter what party....time to get the number crunchers on it to see how it would play out.

    January 7, 2014 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  21. Donna

    Yes, legalize pot

    January 7, 2014 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  22. Marbran

    What has changed since 1972 is the hyperbole. Since the days when William Randolph Hearst fought to make marijuana illegal in order to protect his timber interests, the American public has been fed an endless supply of BS regarding marijuana. It was not until the post-60s/70s questioning, the re-introduction of marijuana into Hollywood movies, and most of all, the birth of the Internet and information sharing, that people are now finally realizing that they've been lied to by politicians for a century. Ask yourself, why was pot illegal all that time? Because they couldn't figure out how to tax something you plant in the ground. That's it! Not health issues, not moral issues (although they wrapped the issue up in moral relevance clothing), not crime; its all about the money!!! Does anyone REALLY think the government cares about you as an individual? Geesh.

    January 7, 2014 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  23. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    There has been broad support for legalization growing for over a decade now. The war on drugs has been lost! You want to say "Just Say No" to something, try saying no to alcohol since it's a bigger killer than marijuana or cigarettes will ever be.

    January 7, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  24. Joe Hettinger

    The problem is the CDC and our government need to drop marijuana from a level 1 substance below cocaine, heroin, and meth. This is all thanks to what happened in the 1920's and 30's trying to push the Mexican people out of the USA. Also the refer madness movie on the 40's the older generations looks at marijuana as an evil mind altering drug. Well times are changing and I see this as a good thing for the nation bring more money for the US. The problem right now in Colorado is not all can use or try it do to employers still drug testing for it. I see it as what people do after work and on their days off is none of the employers business. As long as its not done before work or during work just like alcohol. This would bring even more money in if everyone could use.

    January 7, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  25. MEC

    Democrats and demimondanes insist (with backing from the media) that the stuff is perfecly harmless. The same demographic feverishly crusades against tobacco. Since the prefered method of taking on a load of cannabis is to smoke it, wouldn't it serve as a gateway drug for cigarettes????

    January 7, 2014 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
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