Marijuana legalization advocates have a new milestone to celebrate. On Thursday, the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana. This is a huge milestone, as for the previous four decades, opposition had been the majority opinion nationally on the policy of marijuana legalization.
With marijuana legalization having been passed in states such as Colorado and Washington, there has been a growing outcry from federal officials that the government must step in before a domino legalization effect comes into play. But if the Pew Center’s polling is anything to be believed, the effect they fear is already here.
As the above plot of the data shows, support for legalization has ballooned in the recent years. In 2013 52% thought that marijuana should be legalized with 45% opposed. According to Pew, this is an eleven-point jump from 2010, where 45% thought it should be legalized and 50% opposed legalization. 2010 was when Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana in California, was defeated 53%-46%. And of course this is a dramatic swing from 1969, when nearly eight out of ten Americans were opposed to legalization.
When support is broken down by generation it reveals that unsurprisingly millennials have become some of the strongest supporters of legalization, with a whooping 65% supporting it. They have had a strong upswing in legalization support from 2008's 36% number.
However the Baby Boomer generation has seen the most dramatic turnaround. In the wild heydays of the 70s and the Boomers' youthful days, they supported marijuana legalization. 47% supported it in 1978. The election of Ronald Reagan saw their support plummet, reaching a low of 19% in 1990. They returned to their support of the vile plant, however, bounding back up to 50% in 2013.
However there are still some demographics that remain opposed to legalization. When it comes to partisan viewpoints on the issue, only a minority of Republicans support legalization, 37%. This is far different then the numbers of independents, 60%, and Democrats, 59%. When the demographic of Republicans is sliced further into moderate/liberal republicans and conservative Republicans, another gap appears. Only 29% of conservative Republicans support legalization, compared to 53% of moderate or liberal Republicans.
This huge shift in opinion should come as no shock but the inevitable progress of history. When 48% of adults have tried marijuana and know that it is literally harmless in most cases, it becomes harder and harder to support the "War on Drugs," which has cost us billions every year as demonstrated by this chart from The Atlantic:
But having this sea of change in opinions does not always mean a change in the stance of our governmental policies. While Washington and Colorado may have legalized marijuana, there have been those who have called for the federal government to intervene. However, with President Obama saying that prosecuting marijuana users is not a top priority to ABC News, we may be seeing small shifts in response to public opinion and the reality of the situation. After all, he is the president and supposed to respect the opinions of the electorate, which have changed substantially since when he took office.