As marijuana became legal this week in Colorado, the state became the only place in the world where marijuana is regulated from seed to sale. The historic move follows an important shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana — in 2013, a majority of Americans supported legalizing the drug for the first time.
PRRI’s own 2013 American Values Survey, released in October, found 51 percent of Americans favored making marijuana use legal while 44 percent opposed. That support has risen at a surprisingly rapid pace over a relatively short period of time. As recently as 1991, the General Social Survey reported just 17 percent of Americans were in favor of marijuana legalization.
However, despite this rapid movement in support, not all Americans are excited about the prospect of legalized marijuana sales in the United States. Democrats and political independents are far more supportive of marijuana legalization than Republicans. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Democrats support marijuana legalization, as do a majority (55 percent) of independents; Republicans are much less likely to favor legalization, with just more than one-third (36 percent) expressing support.
Young people also register higher levels of support for legalizing marijuana than older Americans. A solid majority (55 percent) of Millennials (ages 18 to 33) favor legalization, compared to fewer than 4-in-10 (39 percent) Americans who are members of the Silent Generation (age 68 and over).
There are significant breaks by religious group on the question of whether to legalize the drug as well. While less than 3-in-10 (29 percent) white evangelical Protestants and less than half (48 percent) of Catholics favor marijuana legalization, clear majorities of both white mainline Protestants (58 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (78 percent) favor this measure.
Despite the lower levels of support for legalization among some religious groups, few Americans believe that using marijuana is a sin (23 percent) and only 20 percent believe that the Bible expressly prohibits the use of marijuana.
Given the trend of increasing support for legalizing marijuana and the substantial generational differences on the issue, it appears that while Colorado will be the first state to allow the drug’s sale for recreational use, it might not be the last.