CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
12 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. Rudy NYC

    I think that anything that can naturally occur in nature should not be criminalized. It's the man-made,highly processed and concentrated stuff that is really bad.

    January 7, 2014 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Wrong decision on the Chicago gun law. Major urban areas should be allowed to ban the sale of firearms. Just like it is unlawful to shout "Fire" in a crowded theater, despite the 1st Amendment, then major cities should be allowed to prohibit the sale of firearms within the city's limits, despite the 2nd Amendment. Besides, banning sales is not the same as banning ownership.

    January 7, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  3. Janice Poole

    How can we get it legal in the USA? Is it gathering petitions and putting it up for a vote during Presidential Election time?
    Because if that was it, I would go and get petitions signed. Somebody, please explain. Thank you.

    January 7, 2014 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    **********************************
    So, are we to assume that Obama is the sole reason for America becoming a " godless' nation? Of course we are supposed to assume that. We never had substance abuse problems prior to the 1960's, just rampant alcoholism and nicotine addiction, and those were perfectly harmless, right? If we are a godless nation, its because we have allowed ourselves to become a nation of self-centered, narcissistic fools that were told we don't have to contribute anything, follow the rules or listen to our parents. The funny thing is that the most extreme examples of this attitude are embodied in the writings of Ayn Rand, which are the intellectual underpinnings of the Conservative movement. Rand was an atheist, whose writings have been condemned by Church leaders around the world as enshrining selfishness as a virtue. Its your people that lack a soul, brother, not mine. Btw, the most eloquent defense of pot legalization came from William F Buckley, a convert to Catholicism, in the National Review almost 2 decades ago. Would you characterize him as a liberal?

    January 7, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  5. La Raza Escapee

    Pot will be the only affordable medicine in Obamacare.

    January 7, 2014 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  6. Mark Gibb

    This is great news for freedom and peace. If marijuana is made legal everywhere, violence will go down and hundreds of thousands of people will no longer have their lives ruined by a record and a jail sentence for simple possession.

    And this question about whether it's morally wrong or not bugs me. The concept of "morally wrong" has no bearing on what the law should be. The only activities that should be regulated or banned are those that violate the rights of others, are fraudulent, or cause physical harm to others. The peaceful sale, distribution, and use of marijuana do not do any of those things. It's time that Americans live their lives by their own moral codes while not imposing those codes on others.

    January 7, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  7. Doug from BR

    This is why the concept of "states' rights" is only good if you live in a state not controlled by religious conservatives. What's totally legal in Colorado can get someone years in prison where I live. What kind of sense is that??

    January 7, 2014 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  8. Joey

    Sure. Legalize it. Then cry me a river when your kids are killed in an auto accident because they were high.

    January 7, 2014 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  9. Malory Archer

    La Raza Escapee

    Pot will be the only affordable medicine in Obamacare.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    And that's a good thing. It's far less lethal to the human body than all the pharmaceutical poisons being pushed by the pill factories during commercial breaks on television, and could go a long way toward curing America's addiction to a myriad of magic pills which they use to treat their unhealthy lifestyles.

    January 7, 2014 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  10. Malory Archer

    Archeologists have discovered cannibis in ancient Egyptian tombs, right alongside gold, food items, clothing, etc. necessary for when the deceased entered the afterlife. They knew thousands of years ago that it was good to have a nice burn after a long journey.

    January 7, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  11. Edo

    The question is "Under what specific provision of the US Constitution does the government have the authority to criminalize a plant?" I can't find that in the Constitution, The government has no authority here. It does not matter how bad or good a "thing" is at all. It is not under the government's authority to intervene in this matter.

    January 7, 2014 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  12. Sandy

    I am 60 years old Even though I don't use it, I truly believe it is way safer than alcohol. Legalize it! The worst that can happen is the snack food industry expands!

    January 7, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  13. Malory Archer

    Joey

    Sure. Legalize it. Then cry me a river when your kids are killed in an auto accident because they were high.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Kids shouldn't be using anyways. That being said, alcohol is a much larger factor and threat to road safety than cannibis use as most smokers tend to relax at home vs. getting behind the wheel of a car after downing the processed poisons found at restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

    January 7, 2014 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  14. Malory Archer

    Mark Gibb

    This is great news for freedom and peace. If marijuana is made legal everywhere, violence will go down and hundreds of thousands of people will no longer have their lives ruined by a record and a jail sentence for simple possession.

    And this question about whether it's morally wrong or not bugs me. The concept of "morally wrong" has no bearing on what the law should be. The only activities that should be regulated or banned are those that violate the rights of others, are fraudulent, or cause physical harm to others. The peaceful sale, distribution, and use of marijuana do not do any of those things. It's time that Americans live their lives by their own moral codes while not imposing those codes on others.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    IMO the only thing "morally wrong" in the cannibis issue is the criminalization of nature.

    January 7, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  15. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Oh for Pete's sakes legalize it and boost business in all local 7-11's, bodegas, Taco Bells, McD's, and the bean pie seller on the corner of 125th and Amsterdam!

    January 7, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  16. Elliot J. Stamler

    Not surprised–southern Republicans are the most opposed. The worst people in the nation. They were the worst when they were Dixiecrats and they're the worst now. Bible-thumping fundamentalist ignoramuses who don't believe in evolution, separation of church and state, tolerance for anyone who is different than they are, etc. And these are the people who now dominate the Republican Party of the United States.

    January 7, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  17. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    And that's a good thing. It's far less lethal to the human body than all the pharmaceutical poisons being pushed by the pill factories during commercial breaks on television, and could go a long way toward curing America's addiction to a myriad of magic pills which they use to treat their unhealthy lifestyles
    -------------------------------------------------
    Excellent points, per usual, Malory.
    I concur.

    January 7, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. Marcus (from...?)

    I am not for legalizing it, but it's a well known fact that the 'studies' used by Harry Ansliger to ban marijuana in 1937 were plain and simple junk. Back in 1938 there were already scientific evidences that the 'marijuana scare' of 1934-37 was based on lies and exagerations.
    So if the ban is solely based on lies, and there are non-biased studies showing that the reasons behind the ban are fake and bogus...

    January 7, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  19. bczu

    Joey

    Sure. Legalize it. Then cry me a river when your kids are killed in an auto accident because they were high.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    So time to outlaw prescription drugs and alcohol? I mean, they could take them and drive and get into an accident. And studies have already been done on driving high and driving drunk. None of the drivers under the influence of marijuana were as impaired as the drivers driving just under the legal limit of alcohol. So driving stoned is safer than driving under the legal limit of alcohol.

    January 7, 2014 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  20. Hillary

    "Southerners and Republicans", like there is a difference. Pot gives the police an easy excuse to arrest. This provides the labor pool for the manufacturing enterprise set up in the prisons. Cheaper than off shoring, so says Mitt Romoney types.

    January 7, 2014 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  21. Paul Walker

    "Sure. Legalize it. Then cry me a river when your kids are killed in an auto accident because they were high."

    Why is garbage like this still being spouted off. Kids don't need legal marijuana to get high. Do people not get that? You are far less likely to have an accident under the influence of marijuana than alcohol. There's something called "TOLERANCE" and this is clearly someone who hasn't used marijuana enough to understand the concept. Look at a good portion of prescribed drugs... Blood Pressure Medicine, Muscle Relaxants, Pain Relievers, ADHD Medications, Benzodiazapines, Anti-Depressants (All these advise caution on operating heavy machinery as they can all make you disoriented so it's best to become familiar with the effects before doing something like driving). How about Other-The-Counter Drugs (Disphenhydramine, Dextromethorphan) Cough and Allergy Medication (Both can kick your butt pretty good and people aren't screaming on their soap box about them). People drawing this comparison between Alcohol and Marijuana is just nucking futs and it's obviously being compared to alcohol as nothing is more responsible for driving deaths than alcohol and the other substances I listed above. I don't think stoned drivers should be on but I also believe that if someone is too stoned to drive they'll stay put as marijuana in this type of quantity often instills PARANOIA and not COURAGE. Users that build tolerance to marijuana are usually just as good as any other driver out there. If marijuana were legal you'd have less arrests/fatalities due to the fact alcohol was not involved because people in places like Colorado now have a SAFER alternative.

    January 7, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  22. JJ236

    Should have been legalized many years ago. The drug driver comments are absurd. Alcohol is and will continue to be the bigger problem but readily available and legal. Further, anyone ever hear of a stoner going out and robbing someone for a "fix"?

    January 7, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  23. Fred Flynt

    So will there be a large lawsuit in a few years over the cancer that is caused by smoking pot? On the one hand we try to stamp out cigarettes but now we provide another type of tobacco. Is hemp non-cancer causing? Will smoking pot be considered the same as smoking.

    Not promoting one direction or the other just some thoughts for the future.

    January 7, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  24. Ed

    Legalizing will help the American economy in so many ways. People opposing this reform have been brainwashed by the same government that has driven the nation into debt. So are we going to listen to the same old mess? or are we going to give common sense a try?

    January 7, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    Put me on record for stating I am against legalizing it. Put me on record of also stating that I've seen one brother and a good childhood friend both begin their long and grueling drug infested years first starting out using marijuana. Count me also as a cigarette smoker who wished she'd never touched nicotine at an early age ... but did.

    January 7, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
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