The latest Gallup poll released Wednesday shows that national support for marijuana legalization is back to its all-time high of 58%, meaning nearly three of five Americans think weed should be legal. New recruits, welcome to the light.
It’s been a slow burn turning the tide of national opinion away from prohibition and the doomed War on Drugs towards regulation and taxation. In 2010 — the year of the infamous California debacle — 46% of Americans believed marijuana should be legal. In 2011, we broke an even 50%. The next year saw support slide back down to 48%, but that was followed by the greatest spike in the history of the poll: 10 points all the way up to 58% in favor of legalization in 2013, the same high we find ourselves hitting this year. While inexplicably support fell to 51% in 2014 — the year Colorado and Washington enacted legalization and reaped unprecedented tax revenue, go figure — it's 2016 and we’re back, baby!
What could account for the great increase of those in favor of legalization? A few factors come to mind:
1) Education. As the cultural stigmatization of marijuana is exposed as the myth it’s always been, people are opening up to the possibility that hey, maybe weed isn’t a gateway drug — nor does it cause cancer, destroy lives, or turn you into a violent, sex-crazed monster. (Sorry, Reefer Madness, though it sure did sound fun.) In fact, it’s a natural substance with countless medicinal qualities, and a great way to unwind if you’re looking for something less harmful to body and mind than the nation’s favorite substance, alcohol.
2) Generation. With each passing year, older voters are being replaced by the younger generation. (Circle of life, natural order, the wheel turns, etc.) As this recent poll reiterates, 71% of voters 18 to 34 years old support legalization, as do 64% of 35 to 49 year olds and 58% of 50 to 64 year olds. And yet, only 35% of those 65 and over support legalization, bringing up the rear with less than half the percentage of younger voters. It’s not their fault; many older people are still eschewing the internet — the main source for dissemination of new information disproving defamatory claims about marijuana and providing new research and studies proving its medicinal value. Also, let’s be honest, the older you get, the harder it is to change. Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t try.
3) Taxation. After watching Colorado and Washington continue to rake in the green (not to mention Oregon’s wonder-week), even staunch conservatives can no longer ignore the fiscal benefits brought by legalization. Many people choose their political standings based on economics and tax theory, and there’s no doubt that legalization brings in the tax revenue, creates thousands of legitimate jobs, and saves taxpayer dollars by reducing the overflowing prison population. It's this element that is transforming legalization into a nonpartisan issue; for example, the two most outspoken supporters of legalization in the presidential race are Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Rand Paul.
There are countless other factors contributing to the shift of public opinion, and as we continue down this path, our future gets brighter. (Depending on the outcome of the next election, we may even catch up to Canada.) If we keep educating others and spreading the truth, more and more voters will come around. Who would have thought that Ohio could be the next state to legalize marijuana in a few short weeks, or that Alaska and D.C. would beat California to the punch? Though no one can predict exactly how legalization will play out in the U.S., one thing is for sure. It is coming.