CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
3 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. dajowix

    Generally speaking the first mind altering substances (or drugs) that children encounter and experiment with are those found within their own homes. Tobacco is #1 and alcohol is #2. Inhalants, (of which there are many types) and prescription drugs such as Oxycontin round out substances which precede marijuana as "gateway drugs".

    United States Controlled Substances Act places marijuana on Schedule 1. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence. These drugs also have no currently accepted medical use Tobacco and alcohol fit this criteria perfectly yet aren't on it.

    Until marijuana is removed from Schedule 1 the federal government's war on marijuana will continue.

    January 7, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  2. timedonkey

    Marijuana policy will determine the next wave of elections. We the people showed the way of future government in Colorado and Washington where we overcame all the media, 71 years of Reefer Madness, all of the politicians and the cops who make a lot of money with pot busts, we overcame everything with Direct Democracy and ended the political slavery of hemp criminalization. We will carry to victory and candidate willing to support our righteous cause. This is about more than marijuana, it is about the power of the Voice, the Voice of the People.

    January 7, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. jfkjr

    so the question cnn keeps asking do we want to support addiction..how about we support are own country for a change and wake up and realize how much money were missing out on.beer made legal after the govt couldn't control the flow of it instead we throw billions on the war on drugs when the govt could be making more than that in a year on taxing it.since we don't produce enough cotton in America to keep making or own clothes maybe its time to tear that act up and find new ways to start producing new jobs instead of wasting tax payers monies.if you got caught for possession in the past years you couldn't get a job so dope heads were tagged as lazy low lifes when actually the laws were preventing them.now since so many people have gotten caught and placed on their records they've decriminalized certain parts how aboot just realizing scrapping the prohibition of marijuana and implementing a tax just like they did beer.

    January 7, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  4. jleoxii13

    I am very sick and take medications, which have side effects which make me feel bad. It would be nice to have as an option something which works for nausea and pain but does not have the side effects of opiates. The US Governments approach to marijuana seems short sighted, and seems to be driven by the profit motives of the alcohol and pharmaceutical industry, and not responsive to the real needs of our citizens, or the underlying science.

    January 7, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  5. Dave Green

    The only surprise here was that it took this long. I thought when my generation was about 30 or so it would happen. As it is, I'm going on 50. So, it's a little late.

    January 7, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  6. Donald Rickman

    Its about time, people are finally accepting pot is not that bad, and as an adult you should have the freedom to partake in its use.Its legal in North Korea so let the good times begin!

    January 7, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  7. Sand

    Prohibition is a deeply flawed and hypocritical policy. It has failed at every implementation more often than not with blood soaked results. The hypocrisy lies in condemning thousands to death and imprisonment under the absurd premise that it will save more lives in the end. It never does, prohibition has failed time and again to even reduce addiction let alone eliminate it. The time to end Prohibition is now, the killing has gone on for far too long.

    January 7, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  8. Will Mumma

    Is there not enough alchol in the country to impair the judgement of drunk drivers, making it necessary to add tens-of-thousands of marijuana-impared drivers to the road? I guess drink drivers alone haven't killed enough people yet.

    January 7, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  9. Michael

    (1) I will never understand why marijuana was ever put on Schedule 1; (2) I've never seen anyone under the influence of cannibis start or participate in a fight, unless it's over the last Dorito or Twinkie; (3) The poorly conceived and executed "War On Drugs" was a huge waste of time, effort, money, resources. Does personal responsibility come into play for legalized hooch? Definitely ... the same as should always be in play with alcohol. IMHO, cannibis is far safer than alcohol. Time to move past prohibition.

    January 7, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  10. Malory Archer

    Will Mumma

    Is there not enough alchol in the country to impair the judgement of drunk drivers, making it necessary to add tens-of-thousands of marijuana-impared drivers to the road? I guess drink drivers alone haven't killed enough people yet.

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

    I'd rather be on the road a bunch of low-key, cautious stoners than one single falling-down drunk. If anyone gets so stoned that they can't drive, it's highly unlikely they're going to grab the car keys and head for the nearest highway.

    January 7, 2014 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  11. JT

    Instead of taking a poll over the phone, CNN should poll members of Congress. I'd bet the farm that far fewer than 55% would be willing to support legalization. I'd bet less than 10% would openly support or campaign for it. Just further goes to show that the people we sent to Washington don't really care what we want and continue to think they know better than the ones who elected them.

    January 7, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  12. JT

    Will Mumma what reality are you living in? The one where tens of thousands of pot smokers (make that millions) are already driving and NOT killing anyone? That's the one I"m living in.

    January 7, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  13. Constantine16621990

    I find myself asking the same damn question everytime i read an article on pot.. Who would benifit more from its legalization, us or law enforcers? We like to smoke it for good times and health relieving problems. On the other hand, im almost certain the police would be just as relieved to find out they no longer have to haul in kids and adults for a plant.

    January 7, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. rock

    Don't forget the value of hemp itself just the things that can be made from it or used in could bring wanted jobs and money to this country

    January 7, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  15. Buber

    IMHO – This is one of those issues that is taking FOREVER to get to a resolution that makes sense. It's like watching paint dry. Pot will be legalized because the alternative makes no sense: It's harmful to minorities (and society as a whole), has tremendous financial costs (granted, there are a few industries that make money on the basis of pot being illegal and there are jobs that will have to be "re-purposed"), and is wholly based on inaccurate information and skewed statistics. Thank God for the wisdom of the legislators and/or citizens of Colorado and Washington State. May there be freedom from this oppression sooner rather than later.

    January 7, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  16. Mr. Izz

    I will agree all day with the medicinal use of marijuana. Recreational use though? I can't see how it is good for society in any way whatsoever. I just can't support it.

    January 7, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  17. Mr. X

    "Senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners are the groups that still oppose the legal use of pot"? Nuh-uh, no way, you're kidding, really? Gee, that's real shocking. What did you expect from those who still wash their clothes down by the creek and get their water from a well.

    January 7, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. Agirl25

    I completely support legalizing marijuana! I've seen it help people and I've read many stories about how many different conditions it eases. Also, if achohol can be legal, pot should be too. How many times have you heard about drunk driving deaths on the tv!! Okay now think of how many times you've heard about people dying because of weed! I think that says it right there!

    January 7, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  19. kate

    Let's put it on the ballot and vote as a country. I already know what the result will be. The gov is losing money every day that it is not legal. And in my opinion, drinking is far far worse.

    January 7, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  20. jfkjr

    maybe people are un aware or just plain ignorant but the time ive seen a report on a driver killing someone while driving was when they've had other chemicals in their system just not thc.and if drunk drivers kill so many people a year why can I go buy as many kegs as I want to take them wherever I want sell the alcohol drink the alcohol make a profit sounds like a drug dealer to me only difference I had to pay a tax on it.i was recently in court and heard so many people on their 3 4 5 offense and only had to serve a weekend in rehab.time to make our congress persons do some real work and rewrite some laws brining us into the 21st century instead of following a 80 plus law that has no place being there anymore

    January 7, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "They legalized it here in Washington and as predicted, society has collapsed."

    Aaaw, come on now, hipsters and their mustache culture aren't THAT bad.

    January 7, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  22. More Cowbell

    "Prohibition . . . goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes . . . A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded." – Abraham Lincoln, December, 1840

    January 7, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  23. Linda

    With the republicans against legalizing pot, that's the problem, they are not giving up their hold on the governments payoffs! ( all the lies like REEFER MADNESS!!) cuz they own alcohol, big tobacco, not only do they control the controlling of the government by sending highly paid lobbyist to keep their agenda & lies going, just like NSA, just think the world is upside down, murders of babies get a slap on the wrist, with a NO NO DON'T DO THIS AGAIN ( but they always do) & parents have to watch that same child get sick & die!

    January 7, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  24. bearitstrong

    "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."

    About time!

    January 7, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  25. Evergreen

    Cigarettes are also a gateway drug which leads to alcohol use. Most people who smoke cigarettes also drink alcohol.

    January 7, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
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