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

    Driving while high is bad. Driving while texting is worse. Yet people that text and drive get a slap on the wrist while people that smoke weed and drive get their license revoked and more. Stop this ridiculousness. Drugs carry an arcane social stigma that stems from the belief that our bodies are a holy temple. We should do what we want to ourselves. We already do, but only in ways that are socially acceptable. People are fat. If I need to escape from a burning building and a fat guy is too slow and ends up blocking the doorway, should he be held responsible? His life choices caused innocents harm. Should be getting fat be illegal? This is dumb. Legalize it, tax it, and use the revenue to educate people about responsible drug use, and rehab programs.

    January 6, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  2. Kris Jackson

    I've had to wait until I was a senior citizen to have most people agree with me on this subject. Feels good. Think I'll spark one up. Excuse me.

    January 6, 2014 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  3. Sheila

    back during prohibition times – it was different – IF they take the "criminal element" OUT of Mary Jane, we would be better off – can you imagine, this country being debt free ?

    January 6, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  4. Gary

    Mom, 76 Republican supports legalization
    Dad, 80 Former Republican now no party, supports legalization.
    Step Dad 76 Republican supports legalization.

    January 6, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  5. No Thank You

    So, when did a total of 1,010 people surveyed mean it was the majority of the people? Such a very small sampling of people were actually surveyed.

    January 6, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  6. geno marcello

    This CNN poll reflects what I have discovered in my travels around the United States as a roving journalist and magazine writer. I am a bit surprised at CNN's findings on southerners. The people in the South are realistic, very practical and they are the ones who originated moonshine stills back when Prohibition was in effect. I think the South is much more open-minded on the marijuana issue than CNN's findings, but that is purely an opinion based on my years of living in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. I think all laws prohibiting marijuana, whether federal or state, should be repealed, and I think every person who has ever been convicted of possession of marijuana should be pardoned and have that removed from his record.

    January 6, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  7. Aleks Black

    The largest opposition to legalization of Marijuana today is Barack Obama and his Chief Inquisitor Eric Holder. In the last 6 years Republicans have done more to restore american civil liberties including your right to toke than anyone else. At the same time Eric holder continues to raid medical dispensaries and treating states as though they have no rights. I am glad to see positive developments in Colorado. I hope the trend holds.

    January 6, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  8. revraygreen (@revraygreen)

    I moved to Colorado to witness freedom..... cannabis consumers are the most patient, peaceful, civilized people in the world....the experiment will prove this should have been done years ago...the SAFEST product being sold over the counter today....not just in living rooms, back alleys, grocery store parking lots anymore....

    January 6, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  9. quincy

    I'd rather see someone feeling good on marijuana than being a drunken stooper & the money is to help public schools also!!! what is America waiting on? I can at least say marijuana is "made in America" by Americans... GO COLORADO!!!

    January 6, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  10. john.deatherage

    Respect the 10th Amendment. Marijuana is a state decision, not a federal one.

    January 6, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  11. TomCom

    Most Americans really don't care. They know the war on drugs is a failure.

    January 6, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  12. dave

    Legalizing pot is a stupid thing to do and ony stupid people support it.

    January 6, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  13. Steve Allard

    Surprise; the GOP is once again on the wrong side of an issue. Gotta say, they are consistent.

    January 6, 2014 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  14. Winston5

    legal where I live...and society didn't fall!...

    January 6, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  15. Larry Brunton

    I don't care if a 100% of people in this poll say pot should be legalized the fact is that it is a gateway drug and wrong. I'm a 44 year old democrat from Ohio and I was always taught to look down on people who took drugs. Just because no one has any morals anymore doesn't mean we should legalize pot

    January 6, 2014 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  16. Hitkhiladi

    Why is marijuana laws different from Alcohol and Tobacco laws in some states? Example alcohol and tobacco can't be made in home and be sold to public. But somehow marijuana can be made at home and be sold to the public…hmm weird. Is it on purpose to revert the new marijuana law in Colorado or they just don't care about the profit maximization from only selling it through retail, like alcohol and tobacco.

    January 6, 2014 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  17. Jeff

    "Senior citizens, republicans and southerners"?? Is there a difference?

    January 6, 2014 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  18. OkBobOK

    This is a social experiment that will not lead to a good ending for this nation.

    January 6, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  19. Brad

    Legalize it. Tax it and lets move on to actual problems.

    January 6, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  20. zack

    so wonderful....within 20 years marijuana will be legal nationwide, i think. stop wasting all that money and ruining lives putting people in jail for smoking pot.

    January 6, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  21. Christopher Ament

    Count my vote for making it legal and regulated like alcohol.

    January 6, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  22. Diogenes

    Colorado has legalized dope for only a week and already children are being hospitalized by it. Dopers said it wouldnt happen. One child is too many.

    January 6, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  23. Trilobiteme

    I think drug laws are Draconian in nature. I don't think anybody should spend 20 years in jail for doing pot but should we make it legal and promote it. Have we lost our moral compass as a society? Look what happen to China when they made opium legal. How did it effect them? Should we promote drug use and give it easy access?

    January 6, 2014 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  24. jose 17

    "Senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot".

    Meanwhile, private jails are booming (tax payer paid) and human lives are being discriminately destroyed for no good reason.

    Again, just another example of the Republican Party and it's key knuckle-dragging constituents holding everybody else back.

    January 6, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  25. Rosanna Dill

    I wonder if the poll data captured what legalization proponents and opponents do for a living? I am curious as to what % of legalization opponents work in the law enforcement/prison industrial complex.

    January 6, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
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