The recently published General Social Survey revealed that public support for marijuana legalization increased in 2016.
As recreational marijuana laws expanded to eight U.S. states last year, public support for legalization nationwide increased, according to the 2016 General Social Survey (GSS). The large nationwide survey, conducted every two years by NORC at the University of Chicago since 1972, showed 57 percent of Americans responded that they “think the use of marijuana should be legal” in 2016, up from 52 percent in 2014.
The survey found that age and political affiliation significantly affected attitudes on legalization. A full two-thirds of respondents aged 18 to 34 years and a majority of those between the age groups of 35 and 49 and 50 and 64 were found to favor legalization. Support among the oldest age group category, those 65 and older, was only 42 percent. Looking over recent years, support among all age groups has risen significantly. Only 40 percent of respondents aged 18 to 34 and 21 percent of Americans aged 65 and older supported legalization in 2008.
By political affiliation, 63 percent of Democrats reportedly supported recreational legalization in 2016, a 3 percentage point bump from 2014. Support among Republicans was found to be just 45 percent in 2016, a 1-percentage point increase since the last study. Opinions among both parties, however, have surged since 2000, when 29 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans supported ending marijuana prohibition.
The General Social Survey also found support to be strongest in the Northeast region of the country, at 62 percent. The West had 58 percent supporting legalization, followed by the Midwest and South, each with 55 percent in favor.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Since then, six additional – Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts – have joined in passing laws allowing adult use. Lawmakers in other states have taken notice of the economic, social, and public health benefits of ending prohibition and are considering adult use legalization.
The spread of legalization is likely helping influence nationwide attitudes. Prior to 2016, legalized recreational marijuana had been constrained to states in the West, and a recent report suggests that legalization could expand to all 50 states by 2021. Today, 95 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state where marijuana is legalized to some extent.
While officials in the Trump administration have alluded to an increased enforcement of federal cannabis laws in states that have legal adult use, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 71 percent of voters, including Republicans, Democrats, independents, and every age group, are in opposition to a federal government crackdown.
The General Social Survey, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, is conducted through in-person interviews. In 2016, the GSS surveyed roughly 1,900 adults in the spring of 2016. You can access the full results of the 2016 General Social Survey here.