SAN DIEGO — For the first time in more than four decades of polling, a Pew Research Center study has found that a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
52-percent of those polled responded in favor of legalizing the drug. 45-percent said it should not be legalized.
1,501 adults were polled between March 13-17.
Young people were the most supportive of legalization, but the study also points to a significant change in the views of the Baby Boomer generation. 50-percent of Boomers are now in favor, according to the survey.
According to the study the numbers have changed drastically since 1969, when a Gallup survey found that just 12-percent favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84-percent were opposed.
Fox 5 polled numerous people about the issue Thursday afternoon.
“Just tax it and that way everybody can enjoy it,” said Celine Cheano. “Whoever wants to enjoy it can enjoy it and the government can benefit from it. We can benefit from it in so many ways.”
The study found 77-percent of people believe marijuana has legitimate medical uses. Some Fox 5 spoke with were split on whether it should be used only for medical use or recreational as well.
“It’s a plant that has wonderful attributes for healing and recovery,” said Marcy Rubin, visitor from Colorado. She said she is also in favor of recreational use and is pleased with the recent approval by the state.
Susan Brown, visiting from North Carolina, was more hesitant about recreational approval.
“I’m definitely for medical marijuana,” said Brown.
Gordon Clanton, Professor of Sociology at San Diego State University, weighed in on why opinions are shifting.
“Familiarity I think is one issue,” said Clanton. “But the other is just basically demographics. There are more young people than ever before and there are more people who’ve come of age since marijuana was a source of a great deal of argument in the 60’s and 70’s.”
While Clanton said he’s not surprised by the change in opinion, he was surprised how quickly the numbers rose in recent years.
“This is just one of a number of issues on which we’re becoming more liberal,” said Clanton. “I think with regard to same sex marriage for example, who would have predicted ten years ago where we are on that issue today? And, likewise, the approval of marijuana was kind of creeping up gradually, but it tipped up dramatically in the last seven or eight years.”
Many states, like California, already allow marijuana for medical use. Two have legalized it recreationally. The poll found 60-percent of people do not think the federal government should enforce federal marijuana laws in those states.
Many Fox 5 spoke with said they believe there are bigger issues the government should focus on.
“The economy,” said Les Charles. “And a lot of other things that need to be settled a lot faster than that.”
The survey addresses a shifting attitude regarding marijuana as a gateway drug. Just 38-percent of those polled believe marijuana use leads to use of hard drugs. The study points out 60-percent of people held that opinion when polled for a 1977 Gallup survey.
Of course, there is still a large percentage of people against legalization.
“I’m not in support of it really being used at all,” said Angie Wallis. “I sort of believe in being in reality and just accepting bad things and good things as they are and not trying, I guess, to escape through it.”
Still, Clanton believes the number of people in favor or legalization will continue to climb.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe these numbers are going to turn around and start going back in the other direction,” said Clanton. “I don’t see any social forces that would push us that way.”
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