Republican Voters Favor Cannabis Legalization for the First Time

Published on July 21, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

As the Republican National Convention comes to a close tonight, a new survey from YouGov.com has found that — for the first time ever — Republicans are narrowly in favor of cannabis legalization. Admittedly, it’s only by a slight margin, but this is a huge step forward for a party that officially refuses to acknowledge even the medicinal benefits of cannabis. 

The poll was conducted over a two-day period between July 17 and 18, with 1,000 random U.S. citizens selected from the 2014 American Community Study.

The poll asked a number of marijuana-related questions, including respondents’ perspective on the gateway drug theory, whether the federal government should enforce prohibition in legal states, as well as questions about drug and alcohol use by minors. 

The results showed overwhelming overall support for legalization, even from the usually conservative group. Among all Americans, the survey found that 55 percent believe cannabis should be legalized. That’s a slight increase from a similar poll conducted in December 2015, which found 52 percent support for legalization.

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For those who self-identify as Republican, support for legalization increased from 36 percent in December to a narrow majority, with 45 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. That’s a major shift in a very short period of time. Looking further back, as recently as January 2014, 60 percent of Republicans surveyed were opposed to legalization. 

Another intriguing takeaway from the poll: The long-disproven gateway theory still clings to life. In December, 44 percent of Republicans viewed cannabis as a gateway drug; that figure remained almost unchanged, at 43 percent. 

Does this mean that Republicans are truly changing their attitudes about cannabis? Or simply grudgingly accepting a national trend?

We reached out to Peter Moore, the YouGov.com pollster behind the survey, to gain more insight.

“The most interesting thing about this is, literally, the Republican attitude towards marijuana itself hasn’t actually changed much,” Moore told Leafly. “The only thing that’s changed is the attitude towards prohibition.”

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“We see, for example, that Republicans are as likely as ever to view marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs,” he continued. “But what we do see quite consistently is that even in the other attitudes, such as them also tending to think that enforcement [of marijuana offenses] is a waste of money; these things are staying the same, as support for legalization is increasing anyway.”

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Then Moore dropped a bombshell of a conclusion. 

“If anything, I think it reflects a shift on the part of Republicans, not in terms of marijuana, but in terms of their sense of law enforcement.” 

This would coincide with the views of many conflicted Americans during a tumultuous period when tensions with law enforcement run high and heated, for both Republicans and Democrats. 

Do you agree with this sentiment? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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