Americans Say Marijuana Is Safer Than Tobacco, Alcohol, and Sugar

Less than 1 in 10 of those surveyed believe marijuana is the most harmful to health.

Americans consider marijuana as less dangerous than a cigarette, an alcoholic beverage, and a candy bar, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The national survey of 900 conducted a the beginning of the year asked respondents which of the four substances they believe to be “most harmful to a person’s health.”

Most of those surveyed selected tobacco (41 percent) as the most dangerous of the four substances, followed by alcohol (24 percent), and then sugar (21 percent). Only nine percent of those surveyed said they believe marijuana to be the most dangerous of the four substances to health.

American views regarding the safety of each of the four substances are in line with health statistics. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, while approximately 88,000 deaths per year are related to excessive alcohol use. Diabetes, which is related to high sugar consumption, is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths in 2015.

Marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose. Because marijuana’s cannabinoids do not interact with receptors in the part of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate, there’s no risk of cannabis shutting down the body’s breathing or circulatory system. A 2015 Scientific Reports study assessing the risks of various substances found cannabis to be low-risk and concluded the findings “suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach.”

marijuana safe for you

Support for Marijuana Legalization

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also found that 60 percent of Americans support states passing laws that permit “adults to purchase small quantities for their own personal use from regulated, state-licensed businesses.” The last time NBC News and The Wall Street Journal asked the same question in 2014, support for marijuana legalization was at 55 percent.

This latest poll found that support for marijuana legalization was much higher among younger adults. Seventy-three percent of adults between 18 and 34 years said they support allowing the purchase of marijuana for personal use, up from 67 percent of adults between 35 and 49 years, 54 percent of those between 50 and 64 years, and 38 percent of adults aged 65 years and older.

A broad majority of Democrats (73 percent) were found to support legalization, compared to 64 percent of independents and only 43 percent of Republican respondents.

The poll also revealed an overall gap between men and women. While a majority of both genders said they support legalization, a higher percentage of men compared to women were in favor, at 64 percent to 57 percent respectively.

The NBC/WSJ poll of 900 adults, with nearly half reached by cell phone, was conducted January 13-17.

Learn More about Marijuana Legalization

While marijuana remains prohibited under federal law, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana and nine have legalized marijuana for personal use. In this election year, a number of states, including Michigan, Oklahoma, and Missouri and Utah, could present voters with cannabis legalization initiatives.

You can learn more about marijuana laws throughout the U.S. through our education page, or keep up with legislative changes related to cannabis through our news page.