A new Pew Research Center survey found a broad shift in the public’s views on the nation’s drug policies, with many in favor of shifting the focus of government efforts from prosecution to treatment for use of illicit drugs. The survey also attracted much attention for its findings on attitudes about legalizing marijuana and views of its use. Here are six key facts on public opinion about marijuana:
- Support for marijuana legalization continues to grow. A 54% majority of Americans say the drug should be made legal, compared with 42% who want it to be illegal. Opinions have changed drastically since 1969, when Gallup first asked the question and just 12% favored legalization. Much of the change in opinion has occurred over the past few years — support has risen 13 points since 2010. Separately, 76% in our new survey say people convicted of minor possession should not serve time in jail.
- Not all groups support legalization. Only about four-in-ten Republicans (39%) do. While most non-Hispanic whites and blacks say marijuana should be made legal, only 43% of Hispanics share that view. Among generations, 69% of Millennials say marijuana should be legal while only 30% of those 69 and older share that view. Baby Boomers, who were the most supportive generation in the 1970s before becoming opponents during the “Just Say No” 1980s, are now more likely to favor (52%) than oppose (45%) legalization.
- About seven-in-ten (69%) Americans believe alcohol is more harmful to a person’s health than marijuana while 15% pick marijuana as worse (14% say both or neither). If marijuana became as widely available as alcohol, 63% still believe alcohol would be more harmful to society.
- Nearly half (47%) of Americans say they have tried marijuana, and 11% in the past year, which the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health says is the most commonly-used illicit drug in the U.S. The government survey showed that 18.9 million Americans 12 or older (7.3%) had used marijuana in the prior month.
- While support for legalizing marijuana is growing, 63% of Americans would be bothered if people did their smoking in public. More than half (54%) think that legalizing marijuana would lead to more underage people trying it. On the other hand, about six-in-ten (57%) said they would not be bothered if a store or business selling marijuana legally opened up in their neighborhood.
- Changes in state drug lawsJust two states, Colorado and Washington, have fully legalized marijuana while an additional 15 states have decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana possession. More broadly, this comes at a time when a bipartisan group of senators is sponsoring a bill to reduce mandatory minimums for many federal drug crimes. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder called on the United States Sentencing Commission to reduce mandatory sentences for certain low-level drug offenses. On a statewide level, 40 states have taken some action to ease their drug laws since 2009, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. (see full information a Pew Research Center)