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Pew Poll: Support for Cannabis Legalization Keeps on Rising

October 12, 2016

The number of Americans who believe cannabis should be made legal continues to grow at a steady rate, according to a Pew Research poll released Wednesday. A full 57 percent of US adults now say adult-use cannabis should be legal. Only 37 percent say it should be illegal.

The numbers show a dramatic rise support for legalizing adult-use cannabis. A decade ago, public opinion on legalization was nearly the reverse: Just 32 percent favored legalization, while 60 percent were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on cannabis coincides with dozens of U.S. states relaxing their restrictions on cannabis for medical use or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state to legalize some form of cannabis after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. The shift will likely continue into the election season, as nine states are set to vote on whether to establish or expand legal cannabis.

Cannabis Legalization 2016: America Votes

The cannabis industry should thank adults in their 20s and 30s, as they have disproportionately driven the shift in public support. But even older generations are beginning to side with legalization.

Mainly, support for cannabis legalization has increased among members of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, defined by Pew as adults age 36-51 and 52-70, respectively. More than half of Generation X respondents (57 percent) said they support legalization, a giant leap up from just 21 percent in 1990. The majority of Baby Boomers also support legalization, up from a lowly 17 percent in 1990.


Among younger adults, Millennials—those aged 18-35—are more than twice as likely to support legalization as they were in 2006. Support is at 71 percent, Pew found, up from 34 percent in 2006.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 2 among 1,201 US adults. It found persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on cannabis legalization. Democrats favored legalization over prohibition by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 (66 percent to 30 percent). Compare that to Republicans, 55 percent of whom said they oppose legalization. Only 41 percent said they support it.

According to the research center, Hispanic participants were less supportive of legalizing cannabis than black or white respondents. Pew says the same has been the case in past surveys. Hispanic respondents are currently divided, the poll found, with 49 percent saying the use of cannabis should be illegal and 46 percent saying it should be legal. Cannabis support among black and white participants were the same, with 59 percent of each group favoring legalization.

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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