Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but a growing number of states have legalized the drug for recreational or medical purposes in recent years. The changing legal landscape has coincided with a dramatic increase in public support for legalization, which is favored by a majority of Americans.
Here are six facts about Americans and marijuana:
1Two-thirds of Americans favor marijuana legalization, reflecting a steady increase in public support, according to a September 2019 Pew Research Center survey. Public opinion on marijuana legalization was essentially the opposite nearly two decades ago: In 2000, 63% said the use of marijuana should be illegal.
2Views of marijuana legalization differ by generation and political party, though support has increased across demographic groups over time. Majorities of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997), Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) say the use of marijuana should be legal, up sharply from a decade ago. And while a smaller share of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) currently favors legalization, support among these Americans has also increased.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to support the legalization of marijuana (78% vs. 55%). In both groups, however, support for legalization has risen.
3Few Americans say marijuana should be illegal under all circumstances. In the fall 2019 survey, 59% of U.S. adults said marijuana should be legal for recreational and medical purposes, while another 32% said it should be legal for medical use only. Just 8% said the drug should not be legal.
About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) said marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use, compared with 49% of Republicans. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say it should be legal just for medical purposes (38% vs. 28%) or should not be legal at all (12% vs. 4%).
4Supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization cite different reasons for their views. Americans who favor legalization are most likely to point to the drug’s perceived medical benefits or to say it would free up law enforcement to focus on other types of crime; 86% and 70%, respectively, say these are very important reasons for their support, according to a Gallup survey conducted in spring 2019.
Among Americans who oppose marijuana legalization, 79% say a very important reason is that it would increase the number of car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana. Around seven-in-ten (69%) say a very important reason is that legalization would lead to more people using stronger and more addictive drugs.
5About half (48%) of American adults say they have ever used marijuana, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That is lower than the shares who say they have ever consumed alcohol (86%) or ever used tobacco products (66%).
While many Americans say they have ever used cannabis, far fewer are current users, according to the same 2018 survey: 16% of U.S. adults say they have used marijuana over the past year, while 11% say they have used the drug over the past month.
6Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Combined, these jurisdictions are home to 29% of adults in the country. (The Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, also legalized recreational marijuana in 2018.)
Roughly three dozen states (33), as well as D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have approved some form of a medical marijuana program. Numerous states have also enacted laws reducing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related convictions or allowing past convictions to be expunged.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published in November 2014.