How America’s Different Generations View Legalizing Marijuana

According to a new survey just released by the prestigious Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 52 percent of Americans now believe marijuana should be legalized. Only 45 percent remain clearly opposed to the idea. This is the first time in 40 years of polling that over half of all Americans have favored legalization.

This major shift in public opinion on drug laws has surprised many people.  In fact, some experts believed that marijuana’s association with all of the drug experimentation of the 1960s might forever doom any hopes of legalizing it.

However, groups like Norml have worked very hard to change people’s views about this drug. Furthermore, if the entire concept of “medical marijuana” had not evolved, it’s possible that many opinions might have stopped changing significantly. As of today, Massachusetts along with 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for patients whose doctors claim their medical conditions (or symptoms) may become less burdensome by smoking this drug.

The following facts and statistics reveal how generational support for legalization has influenced various surveys over the years. (This newest poll taken by the Pew Research Center involved 1,501 participants and was conducted in March 2013.)

surveyMarijuana Facts and Statistics — Generational Support for Legalization

  • Back in 1969, according to a Gallup survey, 84 percent of all Americans were clearly opposed to legalizing marijuana — only 12 percent favored such a move;
  • How MillennialsView Legalizing Marijuana.  All of these Americans who’ve been born since 1980 currently support legalizing “pot”  by about 65 percent. (However, back in 2008, only 36 percent of them favored such a move);
  • “Generation X” and Its Support for Legalization. Those born between 1965 and 1980 (who came of age when a large number of Americans opposed legalizing marijuana) are only just beginning to voice strong support for legalization. Back in 1994, only 28 percent of “Generation X” favored legalizing marijuana. Today, that number has jumped up to about 42 percent;
  • Baby Boomer” Views on Marijuana Have Waivered. Americans born between 1946 and 1964 have vacillated in their support of legalizing marijuana over the years. Back in 1978, when many “Boomers” had already experimented with the drug, 47 percent of them favored legalizing marijuana. However, during the 1980s, their support dropped dramatically. By 1990, only 17 percent of “Boomers” wanted marijuana legalized. Today, 50 percent of Baby Boomers favor of making “pot” legal;
  • The “Silent Generation” and Marijuana. Although historians may disagree as to the exact makeup of this group of Americans, one NPR article says they’re the ones who “turned 18 during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies – after World War II and in the shadow of the ‘Greatest Generation.’” This group still predictably offers less support for legalizing marijuana than any of the others. In 2002, only 17 percent of them were in favor of legalizing the drug.  Today, however, about 32 percent of them favor legalization.

Clearly, age still plays a major role in how Americans view the legalization of marijuana. Readers interested in how other factors like gender and various cultural backgrounds affect views on legalizing marijuana may want to personally review this newest survey.

Although many states including Massachusetts have now legalized “medical marijuana,” it still hard to predict whether other states will follow suit and if the federal government will ever change its stance on legalizing the drug.

Over time, added research into how the use of “medical marijuana” may impair drivers may affect whether or not additional states and the federal government decide to legalize the drug for any purposes. Likewise, if additional studies affirm that young men face higher risks of developing testicular cancer when they smoke marijuana, public support for legalizing the drug for any purposes may begin to wane again.     —  Elizabeth Smith