Six in ten Americans (61%) want to legalize the use of marijuana in the entire country – a consensus that extends across all ages and regions of the country. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, even those who live in states where marijuana use is illegal believe that shouldn’t be the case (60%).
The federal government continues to criminalize marijuana, though all but six states currently allow some marijuana use – medicinal or recreational – or have decriminalized its use. In 16 states and Washington, D.C., recreational use is legal (including New York State, which recently did so).
The primary group that seems uncertain about legalizing marijuana is Republicans. They are closely divided: 45% believe it should be legalized, while two in five (40%) disagree.
In this poll, there is no significant difference in public opinion about legalization whatever the legal status of marijuana use is in a respondent’s state. Three in five Americans who live in states where marijuana is legal (63%) support national legalization; 60% of those who live where marijuana use is completely outlawed think it should be legal everywhere.
Among those who have never used a cannabis product, nearly half (49%) support national legalization. A third of them (34%) say it should not be legal.
Americans defer to the states over the federal government on marijuana legislation
On the federal level, all marijuana remains illegal. But, there is little support for the federal government enforcing its marijuana law in states which have legalized marijuana use. Most Americans (57%) would rather the government stay out of enforcement activities in those states, rather than enforce the federal laws (24%).
Those of all ages and those living in all regions agree, as do both Democrats and Republicans. Even those who have never used cannabis also agree that the federal government should not enforce its law in states where marijuana use is legal by 51% to 28%.
Those who see marijuana as a gateway drug oppose its legalization
There is one belief about marijuana that appears to lead people to oppose legalizing it. One in four Americans (25%) believe that marijuana can be a “gateway” to the use of harder and more serious drugs. Twice as many adults (54%) disagree.
But believing marijuana is a gateway drug impacts overall opinion about marijuana legalization. Those who believe its use can lead to additional drug use oppose legalization 63% to 24%.
But this is a minority opinion. Among those who do not think marijuana use leads to harder drugs, support for legalization is nearly universal: 88% in this group favor national legalization.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between April 3 - 6, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.8% for the overall sample
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