As more states, including Virginia and New York, continue to legalize marijuana, an overwhelming share of U.S. adults (91%) say either that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use only (31%). Fewer than one-in-ten (8%) say marijuana should not be legal for use by adults.
The new survey, conducted by Pew Research Center from April 5-11, 2021, comes as congressional Democrats consider legislation that would decriminalize marijuana nationally. Views of marijuana legalization have changed very little since 2019.
Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand the public’s views about legalizing marijuana, specifically whether marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, medical use only, or not legal at all. For this study, 5,109 U.S. adults were surveyed in early April. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
A separate question that asks whether the use of marijuana should be made legal – without specifying for recreational or medical uses – has shown a steep, long-term rise in support for legalization. From 2000 to 2019, the share of Americans saying marijuana should be legal more than doubled.
There have long been age and partisan differences in views about marijuana, and that remains the case today. Very few adults of any age are completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana. However, older adults are far less likely than young people to favor marijuana legalization for recreational use.
This is particularly the case among adults ages 75 and older: Just 32% say marijuana should be legal for recreational and medical use, by far the lowest share for any age category and 21 percentage points lower than adults in the next-oldest age group, those ages 65 to 74 (53% of whom say it should be legal for both recreational and medical use).
Among younger adults, there is wider support for legalization for medical and recreational uses, including 70% of adults under age 30.
Republicans are more wary than Democrats about legalizing marijuana for recreational use: 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while an additional 40% say it should only be legal for medical use. By comparison, 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use, and an additional 23% say it should be legal for medical use only.
Ideological differences are evident within each party. About four-in-ten conservative Republicans (39%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared with a 60% majority of moderate and liberal Republicans.
Nearly two-thirds of conservative and moderate Democrats (63%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. An overwhelming majority of liberal Democrats (82%) say the same.
There also are racial and ethnic differences in views of legalizing marijuana. About two-thirds of White (63%) and Black (65%) adults say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared with smaller shares of Hispanic (52%) and Asian adults (43%).
While both Republicans and Democrats differ greatly on whether marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, there are also age divides within each party.
A 63% majority of Republicans ages 18 to 29 favor making marijuana legal for recreational and medical use, compared with 53% of those ages 30 to 49 and 48% of those 50 to 64. However, only about a quarter of Republicans 65 and older (27%) say marijuana should be legal for both.
Still, wide majorities of Republicans in all age groups favor legalizing marijuana for medical use. Even among Republicans 65 and older, just 12% say the use of marijuana should not be legal.
While majorities of Democrats and Democratic leaners across all age groups support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, older Democrats are less likely to say this. About three-quarters of Democrats ages 18 to 29 (78%) favor legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while 64% of those 65 and older say the same. Roughly equal shares of Democrats ages 30 to 49 (73%) and 50 to 64 (70%) say marijuana should be legalized for medical and recreational use.