For the first time in the polling firm's history, Gallup has found a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. Fifty-eight percent of respondents, according to Gallup, said they'd support legalizing the substance — an increase of 10 percentage points in the past year alone.
Gallup attributes most of the recent surge in support for legalization to movement among self-identified independents. Sixty-two percent of independents now support legalization, up from 50 percent just a year ago. By contrast, support levels from Democrats and Republicans remain mostly unchanged, with 65 percent of Democrats supporting legalization (up from 61 percent last year) and 35 percent of Republicans doing the same (up from 33 percent a year ago).
Overall, the public mood with regard to marijuana has experienced a seismic shift in the more than 40 years since Gallup first asked the legalization question in 1969. Then, a scant 12 percent of respondents said yes.
It has been a long path toward majority acceptance of marijuana over the past 44 years, but Americans' support for legalization accelerated as the new millennium began. This acceptance of a substance that most people might have considered forbidden in the late 1960s and 1970s may be attributed to changing social mores and growing social acceptance. The increasing prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, and as a way to mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, may have also contributed to Americans' growing support.
Whatever the reasons for Americans' greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States. Advocates of legalizing marijuana say taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial to states and municipalities nationwide. But detractors such as law enforcement and substance abuse professionals have cited health risks including an increased heart rate, and respiratory and memory problems.
With Americans' support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future.