CNN Poll: Support for legal marijuana soaring
January 6th, 2014
08:00 PM ET
8 years 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. Thomas E

    The poll survey which states republicans are agasint cannibis legalisation is incorrect. It's incorrect in regards to them being real republicans. Real Conservative republicans have not existed since Barry Goldwater. Real Conservative Republicans stand for individual liberty, small government and fiscal responsibility. The new brand of neoconservative are really government statists which were old trotskyites. Please don't brand us conservatives with the new fangled so-called rino republican statist/authoriatarians.

    January 7, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  2. Don

    I think if pot were legal. would give the law enforcement more time to concentrate on real crimes. Would also make more room in the jails and prisons for child molesters, murderers etc etc. Colorado is under the microscope right now, probobly the only bad thing is the stores are running out of Doritos and Oreos.

    January 7, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  3. Sniffit

    "Based on your last sentence now perhaps you have seen the light and understand what 2nd Amendment supporters have been saying all along! Hallelujah! You have seen the light!! 🙂 "

    You're easy to predict, but the analogy is broken...again. I've never argued that "making guns illegal will prevent shootings" or anything of the sort. Idiots who enact absolutist gun legislation and watch it get overturned (like Chicago in the news today) get what they deserve and do nothing for the cause. But there's really no difference in general for rational folks on these issues. Nobody sane is arguing that weed should simply be legal without regulation or an ineffective paucity of regulation. Unfortunately, despite SCOTUS precedent defining the limitations of it, a lot of insane people seem to think that "it's a right" changes the analysis so significantly that guns should be legal with as little regulation as possible even if it means they are rendered know, "because freedumb." The absolutists are the ones supporting deregulation of firearms and blocking sane regulatory measures like universal background checks, closing loopholes and having ownership registries. But EFFECTIVE, REASONABLE, RATIONAL REGULATION is the name of the game in both situations. You can't stop all of the ill effects on society, and anyone arguing it for either issue is a dimwit, but you can reduce the chance of them occurring and their incidence rate and you CAN achieve that without destroying peoples' rights. Look where the slippery slope tinfoil hat conspiracy theory demagoguery is coming from and you'll find the side of the argument that's being ridiculous: it's coming from the gun nuts and "Reefer Madness" crowds, not the people supporting legalization of marijuana and reasonable gun safety measures.

    January 7, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  4. Shills

    Half of laws in U.S. are needed and reasonable and 'just'. The other half are unconstitutional and take away freedoms. As a NON weed user, I've always known that the argument of 'gateway drug' was because it was illegal and people being in the hands of lawless undesirables. Good work lawyers to 35 years of wrong decisions as usual.

    January 7, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  5. Arlin Troutt

    Editors at CNN chose to mislead the public about the safety and medical value of cannabis for decades while they created a hemp hysteria to support and finance this failed drug war. The editors that chose this path should be held accountable for the pain, suffering, death, division, crime and chaos they created. The Prohibition of Marijuana was created by the press not the people. This was not a stupid mistake, this is one of the most vicious and deadly crimes ever perpetrated and perpetuated against mankind. If you are not talking about corruption, dysfunction and accountability from this Addiction Industry this election then you will be missing the point.

    January 7, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  6. Rudy NYC

    Interesting spin on the phrase "gateway drug".
    I am of the mind that they are refering to marijuana as being the first drug that people often try in order to get high. The fear that some have is that marijuana use would open the door, so to speak, to using other drugs as the person seeks to experience a "better" or different high. Thus the phrase "gateway drug".
    No spin. We're actually talking about the same thing. 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.

    But, if all you do is buy beer at the grocery store, then it is unlikely that you will find hard drugs on the shelves for sale. I suspect that it will work the same way when it comes to selling marijuana in retail stores. The opportunity to buy the hard drugs is greatly reduced if you're buying marijuana in a retail store.

    January 7, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  7. 1811

    I just retired after joining DEA 36 years ago with multiple domestic and foreign assignments and I've been seeing this coming fora very long time. Several things are driving this: 1. We have a new generation of users, most of whom weren't even born when President Nixon declared the "War on Drugs and see nothing wrong with smoking it. 2. The potential for enormous tax revenue. 3. The American public has lost all interest in the War on Drugs which is now viewed as a complete failure.

    In Washington DC, we estimated that 80 percent of all drugs profits for the Mexican and Colombian cartels comes from marijuana. So this will be an interesting thing to watch. I predict that if the Colorado and Washington laws are successful (and I predict that will be the case) then you're going to see a runaway freight train going down the tracks as other states race to do the same thing.

    It will bankrupt the cartels, clear hundreds of thousands of criminal cases for possession off court dockets so investigative and judicial resources are allocated to more serious cases and provide a tax windfall for those states that decriminalize it. This will be interesting to watch....and it calls into the question of the future role of DEA. Historically, the biggest criminal investigations with the largest number of potential co-conspirators and financial asset seizures were marijuana cases.

    January 7, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  8. JeremyD

    so in 15-20 years, those old-folgies, who vote more often than most, and are holding up marijuana reform; will be dead, and we can move on with progress. keep the dream alive!

    January 7, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  9. Richard

    "with senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot," . I believe this response is misleading. This group would seem to be the most in favor of legalization. I, myself, am in this group and agree with a previous commenter that this group is better at getting pharmaceuticals through normal channels instead of waiting for our politicians (boozers) to either retire or die before the law is changed.

    January 7, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. Wheels

    I remember in grade school we had a cop come in and tell us all about drugs. Il never forget he said they arrested marijuana users because they smoke it and they kill their familys and burn down their houses

    January 7, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. Tommy Tuttle

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

    January 7, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  12. DoNotCryWhenYourEmplyerFiresYou

    Go ahead and smoke it all you want. When you get drug tested by your employer and test positive, don't start the liberal BS crying! It's just like Facebook; there are consequences.

    January 7, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  13. Veritas

    This is the same crowd of folks that have worked to ban smoking tobacco in public. So very, very ironic.

    Bet they don't even see the logical disconnect...

    January 7, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  14. billy jester

    we need to legalize whatever it it we were discussing in this thread...but I forgot what it was.

    January 7, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  15. Skootch

    Funny how conservatives gripe about the government trying to "save us from ourselves", but still don't want to legalize pot. Conservatives want to ban the EPA and OSHA because they say they hurt business, but say little about protecting human life and well-being unless they're barking about abortion and weed. Hypocrites. If pot were legal, we could let the non-violent pot dealers out of prison, so we can stop paying their room and board. We could stop paying police and DEA to fight this losing battle to control the sale and distribution of pot in the US. The black market for pot would no longer be funding the Mexican Cartels. And ultimately, the world would be a better place.

    January 7, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  16. Veritas

    But...with rising income inequity this is probably a good thing. Now all these losers will be to high to realize how much their lives suck...and those of us who have earned all the money and power will be able to keep it safe from their envious hands. Excellent...

    January 7, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  17. Tendofreak

    I have smoked cannabis for 40 years with no ill effects. Lung power good, marriage of 26 yrs good, two grown college educated children sellf supporting, been employed by same company for 31yrs. The REAL gateway drug is alcohol. It lead me to smoking cigs for 16 yrs thank you Lord that I quit. I would have died from those coffin sticks if I had continued. Cannabis is MILDLY addicting but can be easily weaned from if one needs to be (question is WHY?) I dont have proof but I dont believe it casues cancer...not enough consumed and there arent poisens in it like cigs. Leagalize it RESAONABLY (too heavy of a tax will just drive it back reasonable in the tax rate!) 21 and "open" packages in car...must still be sealed from purchase. 6 plants per adult person in hsehold to grow. (it's not hard but it's not easy either)

    January 7, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  18. ceal

    I came from Arkansas and I am shocked... I have meet friends parents that smoke weed with their kids.. I have never seen that until I came to the south..

    January 7, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  19. KG

    My company stopped caring about Marijuana use, employers are watching too.

    January 7, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  20. Malory Archer

    Tommy Tuttle

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


    Really? Do tell!

    January 7, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  21. Malory Archer


    This is the same crowd of folks that have worked to ban smoking tobacco in public. So very, very ironic.

    Bet they don't even see the logical disconnect...


    Who is advocating cannibis use in public? It's illegal to drink alcohol in public places except in designated areas such as bars & restaurants, and that law would most likely apply to cannibis as well. I call strawman!

    January 7, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  22. Snowman

    I am Republican and somewhat conservative...I welcome nationwide legalization! I am sure many like me would enjoy it too...Like a fine Cognac, it is a great way to unwind in the evening...

    January 7, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  23. stevekromray23

    The good or bad effects of marijuana are a moot point in this discussion. If bad side effects of a drug was a legitimate reason to ban it, cigarettes and alcohol would have been banned long ago. It is a glaring example of hypocrisy for any governing body to say"you can't use marijuana because it's bad for you but you can drink and smoke cigarettes all you want". Alcohol is a contributing factor in almost HALF of all traffic fatalities while smoking contributes to cancer and heart disease, two of the most common causes of death in the United States and i do not hear anyone clamoring for them to be made illegal. You cant have it both ways, a society either has to say "you have the right to use what you want but accept the risks" or "you can't use any of those same things because of the risks", you can't ban some things while others that are at least as damaging, if not more, can be bought on every retail shelf in the country.

    January 7, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  24. Paris Miller

    If it goes legal then the growers, dealers, police,lawyers , courts, prisons........... will be cut out of the money loop that they have created ! Grow your own and smoke your own 🙂

    January 7, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  25. nclaw441

    The decision to legalize pot or not should not rest on judicial economy. Decide if it is ok or not for people to smoke it on the moral grounds the laws were originally passed on. I'd like to be excused from having to pay for any treatment or benefits given to those who choose to use pot.

    January 7, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
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