CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
10 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. More Cowbell

    From more than 1,000 years before the time of Christ until 1883 A.D., cannabis hemp – indeed, marijuana – was our planet's largest agricultural crop and most important industry, involving thousands of products and enterprises; producing the overall majority of Earth's fiber, fabric, lighting oil, paper, incense and medicines. In addition, it was a primary source of essential food oil and protein for humans and animals.

    January 7, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  2. More Cowbell

    Decades of government suppression of information and misleading propaganda has resulted in very little public knowledge of the incredible potential of cannabis and its uses.

    January 7, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    It comes down to opportunity more than anything. If the person or place sells more than just pot, then sooner or later you will be presented with the opportunity to buy more than just pot. That is the assumption that most studies about marijuana being a 'gateway drug' make, that you expose yourself to the culture that uses and sells the hard drugs
    -------------------------------------------------
    I see your point Rudy.
    Generally speaking, though, I would venture to say that folks that sell weed pretty much stick to that. If you wanted to "travel" further they might be able to refer you to someone...or not. I do not know if it has something to do with the time spent behind bars were they to get busted with something other than marijuana, or maybe that people that sell marijuana are a different breed from say crack or meth dealers. Jail time for crack is incredibly high (no pun intended).
    Thank you for elaborating Rudy.

    January 7, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  4. DRJJJ

    Half the kids in our major cities don't bother to graduate from high school-this should help huh??

    January 7, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  5. humtake

    We haven't hit the critical part of legalization yet. It will continue to gain support and more states and possibly the Feds will make it legal. However, if we don't monitor the amount of plants growing then we will be pushed right back where we were. When hemp starts replacing wood products, you can bet money that legalization will start to become a big issue in politics. That's when the lobbyists will come out of the woodwork (hahahahaha) and start demonizing the plant again.

    January 7, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  6. dg

    I know Obama,Clinton,and many other major facets of society had taken the herb, but doesn't mean it should be legal.

    January 7, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  7. Alan8

    The war on marijuana is/was really about protecting the profits of the alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical, textile, and for-profit-prision corporations.

    The corrupt politicians that supported this corrupt war are STILL running for office. WE MUST NOT FORGET THEIR CRIMES AGAINST THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, AND MUST VOTE THEM OUT OF OFFICE!

    January 7, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. coyoteliberty

    Never prouder to be a Libertarian, the party that refused to ever buy into "the war on drugs" lies, the only national political party in the last election to call for Legalization and the people who kept the fight against prohibition alive.

    If you are for legalization and you are a registered D or R, you really need to ask yourself "Why?"

    Why support parties that are constantly working against the things you really think are right.

    January 7, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  9. VJ

    Only CNN is against legalizing Pot... I want it to be done yesterday(legalizing Pot)...

    January 7, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  10. jfkjr

    just find it ridiculous you can go to a state buy it legally while the rest of the other 48 sit here and twiddle our thumbs..should be made legal across the boards if you get a prescription for it charge the sick less and let the rec users pay the regular price..and don't get greedy like they have in Colorado then your just making yourself look like a cartel

    January 7, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  11. QS

    I think a big contributing factor is also simply that all the myths, stereotypes and fallacies surrounding marijuana and its users in the past have virtually all been debunked.

    Over the decades the general depiction of people on TV and in movies who used marijuana was always that of the "stoner" or "loser" or "burnout", even the occasional hippie or "gangsta".

    What was never really talked about that much until more recently was the millions of adults who use marijuana responsibly. Those people far outnumber the others, yet those people aren't as entertaining to watch or poke fun at.

    January 7, 2014 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  12. Hex

    I'm surprised there's 44% of people who don't understand what real freedom is....really sad.

    January 7, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Lynda Minnesota
    It is my own personal struggle of which I do become frustrated because I feel I can't seem to get a handle on it.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Don't be too hard on yourself babe. I thought I would NEVER quit, mostly because I did not want to quit. I loved, LOVED, my cigaretts. My best friends if I was bored, sad, happy, etc. My best friends that were killing me because of all the damn stuff they put in them.
    I quit one time for one month and to celebrate my incredible accomplishment....I lit up!
    Hypnosis was my second attempt at quitting. It was either quit smoking or run the risk of increasing my chances at lung cancer due to the rheumatoid arthritis meds I suddenly found I needed to take.
    Believe you me my friend I didn't quit because I wanted to, but because I had to.

    January 7, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  14. jimmy

    I have found potheads to be more docile than drunks. Hopefully more people will turn to pot rather than alcoholism and we will have a more friendly society. Too many mean drunks and not enough loving potheads. Hopefully all drugs will be legalized so that the supply may be monitored for safety. Meth should not be made at home but in a government lab for obvious safety reasons. Plus government made meth would be more consistent. Let free will reign and let people take what drugs they wish.

    January 7, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  15. Steve

    Of course those over 65 don't want it. They have been brainwashed with reefer madness their whole lives.

    January 7, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  16. gs

    It is about time this happened. If Obama wants to leave a real legacy then reschedule marijuana from schedule 1 to schedule 3. That would effectively legalize it recreationally as well. Just make this over the counter drug require you to be 21 to purchase.

    January 7, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  17. jfkjr

    and too the doc up their if the books weren't as old your thoughts probably are kids wouldn't be so uninterested..kids want to actually learn but not from books that put them to sleep again if our congress persons weren't so worried aboot how many vacation days they could soak up then 20 years ago more of this would have gotten taken care of or if we the people actually spoke up maybe we ourselves could have gotten more resolved considering states themselves our supposed to make the laws and the federal govt is supposed to make sure they are followed.

    January 7, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  18. Marc

    Other states are getting jealous of Colorado and Washington. Those states are going to see an increase of out-of-state visitors and tourists...

    January 7, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Has anyone noticed that liberals seem to be pick-pocketing libertarians' traditional ace cards in the hole, legalizing marijuana? The libertarians' most enthusiastic and largest demographic has typically been the younger voters and those who were enthralled with the idea of legalizing pot. It would seem Democrats have already stolen the younger voters, and now attracting the attention of the NORML crowd. Watch out, Rand Paul.

    January 7, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  20. mike

    I think it's terrible that a persons life is so miserable that they have to drug themselves.

    January 7, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. end3r

    It's about time public support comes around. Too many people are needlessly in jail because of irresponsible enforcement legislation. Too many people are denied access to inexpensive and low risk medical care because of this plants continued prohibition. This is an incredible cash crop that can also go a long way to stimulate our economy by providing a rich market in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food, textiles, and fuel in addition to bolstered tax revenues. All of this has been stymied by nanny state politics and decades of pointless fear mongering.

    January 7, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. Marc

    Now if the government would just allow mail order of the legal cannibis. Then the rest of the nation could also be happier.

    January 7, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  23. Lynda/Minnesota

    Dominican mama: "I quit one time for one month and to celebrate my incredible accomplishment....I lit up!"

    Oh, my! You're cracking me up! Yeah, I've been there, done that too. For three months this summer. I was so excited I phoned my daughter who shared my good news with my grandson - who, btw, was just as excited because his class in school had just shared stories on the difficulty of trying to quit smoking; so he "knew" how difficult it is.

    He. Just. Knew. I. Could. Do. It.

    To make a long story short, a family member recently passed away and at the funeral his daughter in law grabbed me to go out for a "quick smoke". My sister in law shook her head trying to caution me against it. And there went three months down the drain in a single puff.

    And, hey. Your RA meds? Good luck. Seriously. I so didn't want to hear that. RA is just awful. My hands are so crippled that my youngest grandson (age 4) shakes himself every time he looks at my fingers ... "poor Nana" ... he says shaking his head as he walks away. It cracks me up each time.

    I absolutely hate getting old. The mind is young ... the body? Well ... it is what it is.

    January 7, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  24. Troy

    The experiment of prohibition against a relitively harmless plant (relative to alcohol, prescription medication and hard chemical drugs) is at an end.

    January 7, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  25. Doobiedoo

    As long as alcohol is legal and regulated so should erb be too.
    To do any less is hypocritical, but then again that is something governments and politicians love doing.
    Just blame all the dislike on incorrect info given to seniors when they were younger, and they tried to pass it on to their kids, and it worked a bit but that kind of false info can only last for a few generations.
    Now excuse me while I kiss the sky.

    January 7, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
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