Home Blog adult-use cannabis Pew Survey Finds 9 in 10 Americans Support Pot Legalization

Pew Survey Finds 9 in 10 Americans Support Pot Legalization

Thinking back just 10 years ago, the previous U.S. cannabis landscape stood in stark contrast to the one we enjoy today. The United States currently has 38 states with legal medical or recreational cannabis, with 74% of Americans living in a legal cannabis state and 79% living in a county with at least one cannabis dispensary. 

With nearly 15,000 dispensaries throughout the nation, retail cannabis stores now outnumber the roughly 13,500 McDonald’s locations in the country.

Given the prevalence of legal cannabis throughout the nation, and as reform becomes a prominent political talking point among state lawmakers and even in the executive branch, it’s perhaps unsurprising that American attitudes surrounding cannabis legalization have become overwhelmingly supportive over the years.

Most Americans Continue to Support Cannabis Legalization

Pew Research Center has consistently monitored this progression, with its most recent report affirming that U.S. citizens are indeed incredibly supportive of legal cannabis. The survey was conducted Jan. 16-21, 2024 among 5,140 adult participants.

Nearly nine in 10 U.S. Americans (88%) said that cannabis should be legal for medical or recreational use, and a majority (57%) said that they believe cannabis should be legal for both medical and recreational purposes. About a third (32%) said that cannabis should only be legal for medical use, while just 11% of respondents said that cannabis should not be legal whatsoever.

The survey also took a closer look at American attitudes surrounding the impacts of legalization, with 52% saying it’s good for local economies (17% said it is bad while 29% said it has no impact). Respondents were also asked about reform’s impact on the criminal justice system, with 42% saying that legalizing recreational cannabis results in more fairness (18% said recreational legalization makes criminal justice less fair and 38% said it has no impact).

Negative Impacts of Cannabis Reform and Party Divisions

American views were more mixed when it came to recreational cannabis legalization and some of the more negative potential implications.

Around the same amount of respondents said that adult-use cannabis legalization increases (29%) or decreases (27%) the use of other drugs (42% said it has no impact), and more Americans viewed recreational cannabis legalization as creating less safety (34%) for communities over more (21%), with the majority (44%) saying that it does not have an impact on community safety.

While cannabis reform has steadily gained more bipartisan support over time, the survey shows that Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents still tend to show more support than their Republican counterparts. Democrats largely believe that recreational cannabis is good for local economies (64%) and makes the criminal justice system more fair (58%), while fewer Republicans said the same (41% and 27%, respectively).

Consequently, Republican respondents tended to cite the negative potential impacts of cannabis reform more than Democrats, with 42% saying it increases the use of other drugs (compared to 17% of Democrats) and 48% saying it makes communities less safe (compared to 21% of Democrats who said the same).

While the long-term impacts of cannabis reform are still being studied, it should be noted that numerous studies have debunked the assertion that cannabis reform encourages the use of other drugs. Similarly, studies have shown cannabis legalization is not associated with an uptick in car crashes, a rise in use among youth or youth perceptions of cannabis.

American Attitudes ‘Largely Unchanged’ in Recent Years

Looking closer at other demographics, Pew echoes myriad other studies and surveys finding that older adults are far less likely than younger adults to support cannabis legalization. Pew reported similar trends when it came to attitudes around the impacts of cannabis legalization, with younger respondents far more likely to report that cannabis is good for local economies and makes the criminal justice system more fair.

The polling is largely consistent with Pew’s previous reports. The 2022 survey also reported that 88% of American adults supported legal medical or recreational cannabis, with 10% stating cannabis use should not be legal at all.

Speaking to the survey results, Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advocacy group, said that the increasing support can be linked to a lack of “buyer’s remorse” surrounding cannabis legalization among voters.

“As more states have adopted legalization, public support for this policy has risen dramatically,” Armentano said. “That’s because these policies are largely working as intended and because voters prefer legalization and regulation over the failed policy of cannabis prohibition. Elected officials who refuse to take action to end cannabis criminalization do so at their own political peril.”

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