Gallup poll shows majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana

By Brittney Nadler

A majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana for the first time since 1969 with support split between Democrats and Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll.

According to the poll, 65 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans favor legalization. Both parties have seen increased support for the issue since last year when only 61 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of Republicans voiced support.

“I think the disagreement for the legalization of marijuana between Republicans and Democrats is really an issue of conservatives versus liberals,” said Christiaan Burner, president of the College Republicans junior in Business. “I think it’s much more of a moral concern and also a regulation concern.”

Graduate student Owen Marsden, president of the Illini Democrats, believes legalization is more of an economic issue.

“Democrats are … more progressive, tend to be younger and these are the exact same demographic groups that tend to support marijuana legalization,” Marsden said. “The country spends … $40,000 per prisoner per year to incarcerate someone, and I think young people are very sensible to the waste that is our War on Drugs.”

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The survey posed the question, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” which does not specifically address if commercial production and distribution should also be made legal. Most Gallup polls are conducted by phone and target adults.

The first time Gallup conducted this poll in 1969, 12 percent of participants favored legalization. Since then, Washington and Colorado have become the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and 38 percent of Americans have admitted to trying the drug. The poll states that both could be driving factors in the increase in greater acceptance of the drug.

“I think that there are significant institutional barriers to the legalization of marijuana,” said Joseph Hinchliffe, director of Undergraduate Studies and adjunct assistant professor and advisor in Political Science.

The Obama administration is still against legalizing pot under federal law, but has been flexible with the matter. In late August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the Justice Department would not challenge Colorado and Washington in their legalization of the drug as long as they remained strict in regulating it.

“Over the long term, I think that increased or elevated public support for marijuana’s legalization is likely to result in changes in the institutional structures and changes in the law that will allow legalization of marijuana,” Hinchliffe said. “On the other hand, that mere increase in support would take months, years or decades to bring about that change.”

The only age group still mostly opposed to legalization is Americans aged 65 and older, where 53 percent voted against legalization, although support from the group has increased 14 percentage points since 2011.

“I see this as a massive new industry that’s being regulated in this country,” Burner said. “Part of my belief in not wanting to legalize marijuana is simply because I don’t want to see another multibillion dollar industry potentially regulated and taxed, and then who knows where those tax dollars go to?”

Marsden believes the taxation would help the country.

“The country could raise revenue in the form of taxes and lower expenses by legalizing marijuana,“ he said. “I absolutely think we should legalize marijuana.”

The majority of Americans who support legalization are those aged 18 to 29, ranking 67 percent support, according to the survey. As the new millenium began, support surged, which could be a result of the increasing prevalence of medical marijuana.

“I don’t necessarily think that the beliefs have changed dramatically of the people, it’s just the legislators have seen things like states going ahead and legalizing marijuana, so they want to deal with the issue as least as possible,” Burner said. “And since it is a majority opinion to legalize marijuana, just get this out of the way and focus on other things.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected].