October 12, 2016

Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has occurred during a time when many U.S. states are relaxing their restrictions on the drug or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) to legalize marijuana in some form after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. This November, Americans in nine states will vote on measures to establish or expand legal marijuana use.

Young adults have disproportionately driven the shift toward public support of the drug, though support is rising among other generations as well. Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 in 2016 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71% today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations. 

Support for marijuana legalization has also increased among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively). More than half of Gen Xers (57%) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21% in 1990. A majority of Boomers (56%) also support legalization, up from just 17% in 1990.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 U.S. adults, also finds persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on marijuana legalization.

By more than two-to-one, Democrats favor legalizing marijuana over having it be illegal (66% vs. 30%). Most Republicans (55%) oppose marijuana legalization, while 41% favor it.

Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it.

The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%).

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, Hispanics are less supportive of legalizing marijuana than are whites or blacks. Hispanics are divided – 49% say the use of marijuana should be illegal, while 46% say it should be legal. Identical majorities of whites and blacks (59% each) favor marijuana legalization.

Note: View the topline for the Aug. 23-Sept. 2 survey and methodology (PDF).

Topics: Domestic Affairs and Policy, Drugs, Generations and Age, Millennials

  1. is an associate digital producer and writer for Pew Research Center.

Leave a Comment

All comments must follow the Pew Research comment policy and will be moderated before posting.


  1. Anonymous4 days ago

    i think your right

  2. Anonymous1 week ago

    I wonder how high (no pun intended) the correlation is between the “Silent” Generation and Conservative Republican? In 15 years about 90% of those people over 71 years will be gone or at least non-voting.

  3. Anonymous1 week ago

    Can’t wait for all the research on alcohol. Oh, wait, getting smashed and killing 10,000 people on American roads and causing 31% of all motor vehicle accidents and untold sums in medical-related costs is a well-established cultural norm. Silly me.

  4. Anonymous1 week ago

    The report needs to be further broken down to reflect the differences between medicinal acceptance vs recreational acceptance.
    The benefits of use have shifted in favor of both along with an acceptance to no longer prosecute for possession of personal use marijuana.
    The report needs to recognize the difference in attitude of acceptance of medicinal and recreational use within the different groups being acknowledged here.

    1. Anonymous5 days ago

      This is the Pew Research Center. If it had been about medical marijuana, they would have said so. – They didn’t. This is about personal use.

      Medical marijuana is important, but it is a small side issue – especially since about 80 percent of medical dispensary customers are there for recreational purposes.

      The ‘medical-excuse’ marijuana system has outlived its usefulness.

  5. Anonymous1 week ago

    It’s proper name is Cannabis. Marijuana is a slang term invented during prohibition. We’re not fighting for ‘legal weed’ or ‘legal pot’ we are fighting for legal Cannabis.

  6. Packard Day2 weeks ago

    Legalized marijuana is the new “Soma” drug described by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 dystopic novel, “Brave New World.”________ But heck, if it keeps the masses docile and off our streets and/or out of their cars, then why not? Life is moving forward with or without them. So, smoke em if you got em, and as always, best of luck kids…ehhh?

    1. Jason S Rufner1 week ago

      The prohibition of cannabis has never dissuaded the popularity of cannabis. Those very same masses are already consuming the product, so whatever its effects, they are already among us. Correcting prohibition with regulation is America fulfilling itself, and we the people will continue to be as industrious and as innovative when we return to legalized cannabis.

      The upturn in approval is a multi-decade trend that shows no signs of abating, nor should it. More and more minds see that this proverbial emperor is plain buck-naked.

    2. Anonymous1 week ago

      lol; not even. Maybe you are thinking of Alcohol?

      Cannabis is a mind expanding medicine. I assure you it is the LAST thing Uncle Scam wants legalized. 🙂

      1. Anonymous1 week ago

        Only the ones that actually smoke pot or have smoked pot countinously in their life know the effects and its benefits. And I’m a product of that since I have anxiety and nerve problems but with pot it’s all gone. I truly believe pot will make a better world just like it made me a better person.

        1. Packard Day5 days ago

          As a former academic researcher, I do not believe what you have written is true. Nevertheless, if smoking pot worked for you, then congratulations and best wishes on your future happiness._______My original point, however, was only meant to point out that the majority of your fellow adult citizens do not greatly care how you choose to live your own life. That is, as long as you reciprocate the civil courtesy by not engaging in activities (e.g. DWI, criminal activities needed to pay for personal habits, becoming a perpetual ward of the state, etc.) that threaten or cost everyone else. Welcome to the world of libertarianism.