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. sly

    women allowed to vote
    legal inter-racial marriage
    gay marriage
    soon, minorities may be allowed to vote legally in the south

    Progress happens. Seems to be a human nature. Never comes easily, as almost as many fight progress.

    January 6, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  2. Sol

    Good, legalize it already.

    January 6, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  3. Nancy

    Marijuana is a threat to productivity and the current balance. Imagine if workers suddenly realized they were unhappy with their jobs and quit to pursue happiness? I have personally witnessed a close family friend overtaken by marijuana addiction; he ultimately ended up quitting his job at a bank and decided to start a business and travel, and claims he's "happier", although of course it's the drugs talking.

    This drug is extremely dangerous and can change people. What if children smoke too many marijuanas and stop believing in god?

    This country is on a straight one-way express ticket to hell.

    January 6, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  4. Wargames

    It really shouldn't be surprising, the 'hippies' and those that fought in favor of pot in the 70's are now the grandparents and have either passed down their views or have been less outspoken against it.

    I remember listening to the disagreements between my parents and grandparents about it. Later my dad would tell me that at some point the older generation won't be in charge and things will change.

    January 6, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  5. Me

    The War on Drugs has been such a success..............Not! legalize it and tax it. Stop filling the prisons up! According to the Feds Pot is more dangerous than cocaine!? Time the Government got a clue.

    January 6, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  6. Richard

    Well, of course – once the lies the government has been telling us for over 40 years were exposed, why wouldn't the majority be in favor of legalization? This fiasco has cost us billions of dollars, and it was all based on lies.

    January 6, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  7. Joe

    Is anybody really surprised? All the stoners of the sixties are now middle-aged adults.

    January 6, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    they didnt ask me; where does CNn gets those polls

    January 6, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  9. Lighten up, Francis

    Why is the south soooo far behind in everything? Can they secede again? This time we'd happily let them go.

    January 6, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  10. thinkaboutit

    Legalize and then release everyone in prison on marijuana charges including those on three strike/habitual offender enhancements. I am tired of my tax dollars paying for this lost war especially when we can't even secure the borders.

    January 6, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  11. Chris

    Never believe a liberal and NEVER believe a liberal news source.

    January 6, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  12. Fred Smerlas

    It's about damn time!

    January 6, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  13. FAIRTV

    The irony is that those who support smoking pot are the same people who say they are for clean air. What hypocrisy.

    January 6, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  14. bmsvds

    When it is legal, people can get it easily. When it is illegal, people can get it easily. When it is legal, people can use it and not get in trouble. When it is illegal, people can use it and still not get in trouble because law enforcement doesn't want to waste manpower on it.

    January 6, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  15. Dave Green

    None of this is a surprise. I'm 49 and this is a reflection of my generation reaching middle age. I clearly remember being about 15 years old having discussions about this very thing and the consensus was normally that when we all grew up things would change, and they are.

    January 6, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  16. TallinOK

    Legalize it. Take the money savings from the marijuana portion of the 'war on drugs' and incarceration costs to build infrastructure or feed OUR hungry children. Not one dime to be sent overseas.

    January 6, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  17. Gurgyl

    Nothing wrong with it, just like Alcohol, Tobacco etc.

    January 6, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  18. laurie

    Duh...wouldn't anyone 70 or older predate general weed smoking in high school & college. In another 5 years the percentages will look better yet.

    January 6, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  19. MakesYouThink

    Because everyone is so depressed form 5 years of unemployment and the economy heading south, and now legal pot is the only medicine you can get with the new health care system.

    January 6, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  20. Tomacci

    It's about time

    January 6, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  21. Kris in AL

    Is this the change the President promised?

    January 6, 2014 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  22. cscd1111

    If you can't beat of these drug lords in the world put them out of business with legalization and heavy taxation.

    January 6, 2014 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  23. Randy, San Francisco

    Not surprised that Republicans are on the wrong side of history again. Add the legalization of marijuana to a very long list: gay marriage, immigration reform, extension of unemployment benefits, affordable health care act, abortion rights, Voting Rights Act, tax reform, protection of environment, raising the minimum wage, regulation of banks and Wall Street.

    January 6, 2014 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  24. m123

    Why not, it is not near as bad as alcohol, and the taxes to be made would be tens of billions
    It would be huge tourist draw too

    January 6, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  25. maze321

    12,300+ arrests would have been prevented in the last 6 DAYS, if it were decriminalized across the nation! (1/42sec) Free the people & tax payers from this unnecessary burden. It's long overdue.

    Self-fulfilling scenarios – Labeled a "Gateway Drug" because it's grouped with other drugs. Alcohol is a more common first experience. Labeled "Morally Wrong" because it was made illegal.

    Change the laws, and the polls would even more supportive.

    January 6, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
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