Marijuana Public Opinion

Marijuana remains fully illegal under federal law, regardless of a growing number of states who have passed legislation to legalize consumption for both medical and/or recreational purposes. In fact, as of April 2021, 16 states have legalized both recreational and medical use. Nine other states have legalized medical use and decriminalized recreational. Of the remaining 24 states, one is legal for medical, and seventeen have decriminalized.

In only six states is marijuana still fully illegal.

This changing legal view coincides with a dramatic increase in public support for legalization. Legalization is now favored by a majority of Americans.

Americans and Marijuana

According to an April 2021 Pew Research Center survey, nine-in-ten Americans favor some form of marijuana legalization. 91% of U.S. adults say either that it should be legal for medical and recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (31%). Just 8% say the drug should not be legal in any form.

Not surprisingly, results differ widely by age and party.

Older adults are far less likely than younger ones to support marijuana legalization for both recreational and medical uses. As an example, 32% of adults ages 75 and older say marijuana should be legal for recreational and medical use, by far the lowest for all age groups. In comparison, seven-in-ten adults under the age of 30 favor legalization for both medical and recreational use.

Poll respondents who identify as Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and GOP leaning independents to support the legalization of marijuana for both purposes (72% vs. 47%).

Public Support on the Rise

As the graph shows, since 1989, there has been a dramatic increase in public support for marijuana legalization from 16% to today’s 67%. In 2019, the last time the more general question concerning legalizing marijuana Center was asked, two-thirds of adults expressed support for marijuana legalization: double the share in 2000.

Supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization cite different reasons for their views. Americans who favor legalization are most likely to point to the drug’s perceived medical benefits or to say it would free up law enforcement to focus on other types of crime; 86% and 70%, respectively, say these are very important reasons for their support, according to a Gallup survey conducted in spring 2019.

Among Americans who oppose marijuana legalization, 79% say a very important reason is that it would increase the number of car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana. Around seven-in-ten (69%) say a very important reason is that legalization would lead to more people using stronger and more addictive drugs.

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