Increasing Percentages of Americans are Ready for Legal Marijuana

Four in five support legalizing medical marijuana & half support recreational legalization; Many adults also believe marijuana is no more hazardous than alcohol

05:00 AM EDT May 7, 2015 Rating
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Increasing Percentages of Americans are Ready for Legal Marijuana

NEW YORK, N.Y. – May 7, 2015 – Last month, Georgia decriminalized marijuana, making it the twenty-sixth jurisdiction (Washington, D.C. included) to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. A new Harris Poll finds that the growing acceptability of marijuana among state lawmakers reflects attitudinal shifts amongst the general American public since 2011.  Support for the legalization of marijuana for both medical treatment and recreational use has increased by seven percentage points over the past four years.  

Currently, four in five adults (81%) favor legalizing marijuana for medical use, up from 2011 when three quarters of Americans (74%) indicated the same.  Meanwhile, half of Americans are supportive of legalizing marijuana for recreational use (49%), up from the two fifths (42%) who felt that way in 2011. 

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,221 U.S. adults surveyed online between February 11 and 17, 2015.

Federal law or each state for itself?

As for who should be making the big legalization decision, 44% favor each state resolving the issue for itself, while 35% favor a single law handed down by the federal government.

Potential consequences

When asked about the effects legalizing marijuana might have, expectations have not changed much since 2011.  Then and now, three quarters of adults (75%) expect tax revenues will increase post legalization. 

Seven in ten Americans believe the amount of marijuana used will increase (68% then, 70% now) along with the number of people who use marijuana (68% then, 69% now).  A majority of Americans also anticipate an increase in the consistency and standardization of the marijuana used (59% in 2011 and 2015).

Meanwhile, expectations are split when it comes to the effect the legalization of marijuana will have on the amount of money spent on prisons/prisoners and the crime rate.  Thirty-six percent of adults anticipate a decrease in prison spending, while two in ten each believe decriminalized marijuana will cause  an increase in prison spending (20%) or no change at all (22%). 

In addition, a third of Americans (34%) believe the crime rate will decrease, while 28% feel crime will increase, and 22% anticipate no change at all.

Marijuana vs. Alcohol

Aside from a thirteen-year blip known as Prohibition, citizens of the United States have legally sold and consumed alcohol since the country’s founding.  In contrast, for the larger part of our nation’s history, selling and using marijuana had been illegal. 

When asked whether alcohol or marijuana is more problematic, majorities feel neither is more or less hazardous; however, when focusing on those who pointed out one or the other specifically, marijuana is consistently seen as less dangerous or harmful than alcohol.

On the matter of being a gateway to other drugs, while a plurality (36%) still feels this describes both equally, after that, there is equal support for it being either a better description of marijuana (22%) or not an accurate description of either substance (21%). 

Americans are more divided when it comes to which is most dangerous to use even in moderation: 32% say both are equally dangerous in moderation, while 31% say neither is.

 

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 TABLE 1a

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA FOR VARIOUS PURPOSES – SUMMARY GRID AND TREND

“Certain states are discussing the idea of legalizing marijuana.  Would you support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for the following purposes in your state?”

Base: All adults

 

Support (NET)

Strongly support

Somewhat support

Oppose (NET)

Somewhat oppose

Strongly oppose

Not at all sure

Decline to answer

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Medical treatment (2011)

74

48

26

18

7

10

7

1

Medical treatment (2015)

81

57

25

13

4

8

5

1

Recreational use (2011)

42

23

19

49

12

37

7

2

Recreational use (2015)

49

27

22

44

11

32

6

2

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

 

TABLE 1b

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA FOR VARIOUS REASONS – SUMMARY OF SUPPORT

Summary of those saying, “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose,”
by Trend, Party Identification, and Marijuana’s Legal Status in Respondent’s State at Time of Interview

“Certain states are discussing the idea of legalizing marijuana.  Would you support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for the following purposes in your state?”

Base: All adults

 

Total 2011

Total 2015

Party Identification

Marijuana’s Legal Status for Respondent

Rep

Dem

Ind

Illegal

Legal/Impending (NET)

Legal/Impending (medical only)

Legal/Impending (medical & recreational)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Medical treatment

74

81

69

87

86

79

83

82

92

Recreational use

42

49

27

58

55

44

54

52

64

 

 

TABLE 1c

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA FOR VARIOUS REASONS – SUMMARY OF OPPOSE

Summary of those saying, “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose,”
by Trend, Party Identification, and Marijuana’s Legal Status in Respondent’s State at Time of Interview

“Certain states are discussing the idea of legalizing marijuana.  Would you support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for the following purposes in your state?”

Base: All adults

 

Total 2011

Total 2015

Party Identification

Marijuana’s Legal Status for Respondent

Rep

Dem

Ind

Illegal

Legal/Impending (NET)

Legal/Impending (medical only)

Legal/Impending (medical & recreational)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Medical treatment

18

13

23

8

9

15

11

11

7

Recreational use

49

44

65

34

38

48

38

39

34

 

TABLE 2

SHOULD LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA BE A FEDERAL OR STATE DECISION

By Trend and Party Identification

“Regardless if you think marijuana generally should be legalized or not, do you think that the decision should be at the state level, or do you think it should be a federal decision which applies to all states?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

2011 

Total 2015

Party Identification

Rep

Dem

Ind

%

%

%

%

%

Should be a state decision

44

44

51

37

47

Should be a federal decision

40

35

30

42

35

Not at all sure

14

19

17

20

16

Decline to answer

2

2

2

1

1

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

  

TABLE 3a

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA WOULD CAUSE THE FOLLOWING – SUMMARY GRID

“If marijuana was legalized generally, do you think it would cause an increase or a decrease in the following?”

Base: All adults

 

Increase

2011
(NET)

Increase

2015
(NET)

Large increase

Small increase

No change

Decrease

2011 (NET)

Decrease 2015 (NET)

Small decrease

Large decrease

Not at all sure

Decline to answer

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Tax revenue

75

75

52

23

9

5

3

2

1

11

2

The amount of marijuana used

68

70

43

27

19

5

3

2

1

7

2

The number of people who use marijuana

68

69

37

32

21

5

3

1

1

7

2

Consistency and standardization of the marijuana used

59

59

34

25

19

6

4

2

2

17

2

The crime rate

28

28

16

12

25

41

34

14

20

11

1

The amount of money spent on prisons/prisoners

20

20

13

8

26

44

36

20

16

16

2

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 


TABLE 3b

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA WOULD CAUSE THE FOLLOWING – SUMMARY OF INCREASE

Summary of those saying, “large increase” or “small increase,”
by Trend, Party Identification, and Marijuana Legislation

 “If marijuana was legalized generally, do you think it would cause an increase or a decrease in the following?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

2011

Total

2015

Party Identification

Medical Treatment Usage

Recreational Usage

Rep

Dem

Ind

Supports

Opposes

Supports

Opposes

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Tax revenue

75

75

72

76

76

80

59

83

69

The amount of marijuana used

68

70

78

67

69

71

76

63

82

The number of people who use marijuana

68

69

77

66

67

69

77

62

80

Consistency and standardization of the marijuana used

59

59

49

63

63

65

42

69

51

The crime rate

28

28

40

22

27

23

63

10

51

The amount of money spent on prisons/prisoners

20

20

25

19

18

17

40

10

32

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.


TABLE 4

MARIJUANA, ALCOHOL, BOTH, OR NIETHER – SUMMARY GRID

“Thinking about marijuana and alcohol/alcohol and marijuana, please choose which of these, if either, you believe best fits with each description below.”

Base: All adults

 

Describes both equally 

Describes alcohol more than marijuana 

Describes marijuana more than alcohol 

Does not describe either 

Not at all sure 

%

%

%

%

%

Impairs one’s ability to drive a vehicle

68

22

3

1

6

Excessive use can be detrimental to overall mental health

62

21

7

2

8

Excessive use can be detrimental to overall physical health

61

25

4

3

7

Regular use over a long period can be detrimental to overall physical health

56

27

5

5

8

Addictive

56

25

9

3

7

Regular use over a long period can be detrimental to overall mental health

56

20

10

6

9

A gateway to other drugs

36

10

22

21

12

Dangerous to use even in moderation

32

16

11

31

10

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 11 and 17, 2015 among 2,221 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #25, May 7, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst 

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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