January 7th, 2014
08:01 PM ET
9 months ago

CNN Poll: Americans say marijuana is less dangerous than booze or tobacco

Washington (CNN) - Americans appear to view marijuana in a class by itself.

According to a new national poll, marijuana is not as wicked as other illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine, and much less dangerous than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.

That's one reason why a CNN/ORC International survey indicates that support for legalizing marijuana is soaring, and why that same support does not extend to hard drugs.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed that 55% of all Americans think that the use of marijuana should be legal - a solid majority and more than triple the 16% who said the same thing a quarter century ago. But according to numbers released Tuesday, the percentage is nowhere near as high as the 81% who say alcohol should remain legal or the 71% who believe that tobacco use is OK.

Yet, despite the high numbers who think alcohol and tobacco should be legal, nearly three-quarters say that booze is more dangerous than pot, and more than six in 10 think the same thing about cigarettes and cigars.

The numbers on alcohol and marijuana is a major switch from four decades ago, when Americans were split on which was more dangerous to use.

"The logical conclusion: Many Americans believe that if more dangerous substances like alcohol and tobacco are legal, marijuana should be, too," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

What about harder drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines, better known as crystal meth?

According to the poll, Americans almost unanimously agree that those substances should remain illegal. Only 4% say that cocaine and heroin should be legalized; only 3% feel that way about methamphetamines.

There is a notable moral dimension to how Americans feel about harder drugs that does not apply to marijuana or alcohol: Roughly eight in 10 questioned in the poll say that using heroin or cocaine is morally wrong. As CNN reported on Monday, only 35% feel that way about marijuana, about half the number who felt that way in the 1980s. And only 16% say that drinking alcohol is morally wrong, down from 38% a quarter century ago.

"Once again, opinions on marijuana seem to represent a halfway point between generally accepted substances like alcohol and widely reviled substances like cocaine and heroin," Holland said.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International from January 3 to 5, with 1,010 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

soundoff (183 Responses)
  1. mim

    I agree. Pot does do physical damage to the physiology but alcohol will destroy everything but your hearing. Everything, including relationships.

    January 7, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  2. Donald George MacDonald

    During my professional experience for many years in mental health, criminal justice and law enforcement, I found that our community devastation related to illegal drugs has resulted primarily because of cocaine and opiate buying and selling and using and abusing as well as by the impulsive desperation withdrawals cause.

    The main problems existing amongst weed users are the high cost of purchase, finding who to safely purchase from, how to avoid arrest and the resulting inconvenience after improbable arrest.

    January 7, 2014 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  3. Donald George MacDonald

    Until I entered the military in 1969, I only occasionally drank alcohol with the gang, and my only drug of choice was Schlitz.

    So in June, 1969, I entered the military and by October of that year I was in stationed in Vietnam. But I must admit with absolutely no guilt that my one year of living life in Saigon was the very best year of the life I have lived so far. I worked 7 a.m. until noon 6 days a week and it was during my one year of living life in Saigon that I first started inhaling and holding in the smoke of burning marijuana. Thus another type of virginity was lost, but so much else was gained.

    Until I first used marijuana (hereafter to be mostly referred to as the monosyllabic “weed”) I consumed only alcohol. After my first use of weed, though, I rarely consumed alcohol for about the next 20 years. Instead, for about 20 years after 1969, I very happily used weed almost exclusively…almost every day.

    While under the influence of weed, I very much enjoyed the pure relaxation and flow of thoughts and internal words while I always must refer to alcohol as only “the dumb drug.” My “favorite” time to smoke weed, if I had to identify only one of my many favorite times, was at sunrise when I sit and listen to the quiet and I see light starting to angle inside and I feel cool breezes that carry the music of springtime birds into to my open windows…into my open room. I sit quietly, warmly remembering yesterdays and visualizing what we will gain tomorrow. You would have to be here and dream with me to know just what I mean.

    January 7, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  4. Donald George MacDonald

    Even though I still enjoy a good beer at times, I wish I could also tell you that I enjoy an idyllic retirement enjoying wisps of weed and the resulting flow of thoughts and internal words.

    I wish I could tell you that the “dumb drug” of alcohol has been again replaced by weed.

    I wish I could tell you my beer belly is shrinking and my good writings are gaining.

    I wish I could sit at sunrise and listen to the quiet and see light starting to angle inside and feel cool breezes that carry the music of springtime birds into to my open windows…into my open room.

    I wish I could tell you that I wrote this entire piece while under the influence of weed, but there are common-sense limits to my self-disclosure.

    For I know that if I made those reckless, public claims, especially in writing, especially in published writing, our very good criminal justice and law enforcement authorities who do serve us and who do protect us would also have no choice but to come knocking at the door.

    “The summer of love” supposedly occurred in 1967, but this all ended a long time ago in many, varied ways. So in this new age with old prohibitions, I must conclude my story by only wishfully thinking and safely saying that my present and future use of weed “ain’t nobody’s business but my own.”

    January 7, 2014 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  5. geno marcello

    If the federal government cared about the opinion of its own citizens, rather than bowing to the will of the many attorneys who make up most of the Congress and Senate, it would immediately change the status of marijuana in America. Legalize it or decriminalize it, but stop arresting people for smoking it.

    January 7, 2014 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  6. Rodney McKay

    Americans have a truly bizarre idea about what the word "moral" means.

    January 7, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  7. Rick

    I would never advocate for anyone to actually use cocaine or heroin, but they should be legal. Why? Because their high levels of use combined with the obvious high degree of risk suggest that their illegality doesn't deter people from using. And as it stands, we're locking up low-level drug dealers to make cops look competent and allowing billions of dollars to reach the hands of violent, lawless drug overlords who terrorize people at all levels of the drug trade.

    Stop black markets by eliminating them through free markets.

    January 7, 2014 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  8. John

    Hmmm, let's see.. One inhibits tumors and has potent immuno-modulatory effects, while the other is a potent neurotoxin that damages the whole body. LD50 values show us that THC is even less neurotoxic than caffeine. Science isn't based on opinion.

    January 7, 2014 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  9. davecu

    Most of us have no clue what the data actually indicate.
    Only our anecdotal experiences.

    January 7, 2014 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  10. mona19595

    Marijuana is so much less dangerous than booze, OMG look at the number of DWI's, accident's from drinking...violence because of booze. The very worst you get with marijuana is someone who is hungry and then tired..pot smoker's are calm, maybe paranoid but they don't go crazy from smoking. And if they drive you can tell they are stoned because they are driving so slow..not with a drunk most drive like they are in a Nascar race!

    January 7, 2014 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  11. Scott Independent

    in many ways, true

    January 7, 2014 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  12. Carson Thaler

    It's good for some, bad for others.... What can you say? Addicts suck...

    January 7, 2014 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  13. Sol Deus

    The only people who don't agree that boozing is worse are those who ignorantly avoided trying something that is relatively harmless in moderation merely because some law said it was "wrong".

    January 7, 2014 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  14. Nunya

    I'm 45, been saying this for 27 years.....

    January 7, 2014 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  15. d. moriarty

    My pathologist father advised marijuana was less harmful than cigarettes. Hed seen hundreds of tarred lungs and rotten livers..a 3ozs tobacco daily habit murdered him. Special interests have long played the liars game.

    January 7, 2014 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  16. Steve

    Health-wise, pot would be better than cigarettes simply because you don't smoke a pack a day of pot. Toke for toke, however, I'm guessing they are both equally bad, as you are inhaling something into your lungs other than intended air. Pot vs. alcohol is probably the same deal. Pot is bad for your lungs, alcohol is bad for you liver. I'd say it's a toss up.

    However, as for violence, alcohol is definitely worse, and as for productivity, alcohol is worse. If you are drinking all day on Sunday, you will have a tough time at work. If you smoke pot all day on Sunday, it has no affect on Monday, as once it wears off you are back to normal. I would love to switch from alcohol to pot for this reason. If I drink all day, the next day is shot as well. However, I just can't handle the smoking. The two times I tried it, after coughing up a lung, pot gave me nearly the exact sensation as being drunk. Oddly enough, I didn't get hungry nor paranoid. The only thing it did for me was make things seem like they went on forever. Again, if it wasn't for smoking, I'd quit drinking and use pot. Eating doesn't work for me. Tried it twice and no telling when it kicks in. One time, nothing happened for 12 hours. It kicked in right in time for work the next day after I had ingested it 12 hours earlier, plus the affect lasted for 8 hours. Ingesting it is just too unreliable. Love to try a vaporizer, but have no interest in shelling out money just to find out I'd rather be drunk and I don't know anyone who has one.

    January 7, 2014 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  17. Bill

    I've worked in ERs and ICUs for 40 years and I've never seen someone come in that had ONLY marijuana in their system. I've seen marijuana and alcohol, or cocaine or heroin or barbituates. I've seen alcohol alone and I've seen the tragedy of innocents killed by alcohol alone. Never, ever marijuana alone.

    January 7, 2014 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  18. puddintane

    all the dope lobby knows to do is obsess over strawman alcohol

    January 7, 2014 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  19. lean6

    So, what happened to "this is your brain...this is your brain on drugs. Any questions" No way is this going to be legalized nationally unless it's taxed so heavily that only the rich could afford it anyway...which means people will still be buying it illegally.

    January 8, 2014 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  20. sugar

    I bet every person that uses cocaine used alcohol, first.

    I know my gateway drug was caffeine.

    January 8, 2014 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  21. Popeye

    Anyone who says marijuana is worse than alcohol has never smoked it. All the Dudley Do-Rights have been brainwashed.

    January 8, 2014 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  22. blah blah blah

    They're all dangerous to use, even with occasional use. They will shorten your life span, no matter how you look at it. . This is only a short term resolution to a long term problem, that will ultimately be discontinued somewhere down the road, eliminating all "occasional use" drugs. This is NOT the definitive solution to the ongoing problem.

    January 8, 2014 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  23. UsnoozeUlose

    Yes, let's ignore science Marijuana smoke contains over 4000 identified chemicals, including more than 50 that are known to cause cancer (Moir et al., 2008). It contains a similar range of harmful chemicals to that of tobacco smoke (including irritants and carcinogens) (Hoffmann et al, 1975). As inhaled smoke comes into contact with airway and lung before being absorbed into the bloodstream, it is likely to affect the respiratory system (Novotny et al, 1982).

    Risk of respiratory effects from inhaling marijuana smoke are heightened by the more intensive way in which marijuana is smoked - when smoking marijuana compared to tobacco, there is a prolonged and deeper inhalation and it is smoked to a shorter butt length and at a higher combustion temperature. This results in approximately 5 times the carbon monoxide concentration, 3 times the tar, and the retention of one-third more tar in the respiratory tract. Higher levels of ammonia and hydrogen cyanide have also been found in marijuana smoke, compared to tobacco (Moir, et al., 2008; Wu et al., 1988; Tashkin et al., 1991; Benson & Bentley, 1995). and hang our hat on poorly conducted, undersized population studies.

    January 8, 2014 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  24. Travis

    Ok so they can give you stuff that can kill you such as cigarettes and alcohol but they make something that didn't do anything to hurt or kill any one illegal I mean really how mine people got cancer from smoking marijuana huh but yet ever day some gets it from tobacco how mine people died in a car cash do to marijuana huh ? But yet Alcohol is legalized why should marijuana ... It isn't going to kill anyone like maybe make them happy .. I mean really would you want someone who has a bad day a work to come home get drunk and beat you or they could come him light up and it would take all there stress away they wouldn't have to beat there wife or kids or animals ... I mean really how mine mad stoners do u know ? Yes they should make marijuana legal .
    By Travis Hunt

    January 8, 2014 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  25. tony

    Alcohol and Tobacco miam and kill thier users, and far faster and more deadly to young women.

    January 8, 2014 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
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