A growing number of states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, and at the federal level, Congress is considering decriminalizing the drug and expunging past convictions for marijuana-related offenses.
These policies align with the views of most Black Americans, according to an October 2021 Pew Research Center survey. Wide majorities of Black adults support legalizing marijuana at least for medical use (85%) and favor reforms to the criminal justice system such as releasing people from prison who are being held only for marijuana-related charges and expunging marijuana-related offenses from the criminal records of individuals convicted of such offenses (74% each).
Opinions vary more on whether marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use or for medical use only. About six-in-ten Black adults (57%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use by adults, while 28% say marijuana should be legal for medical use only. Notably few Black adults (11%) say marijuana use should not be legal.
This analysis about Black Americans’ views of marijuana policy draws on Pew Research Center’s second in-depth survey of Black Americans, which examines the rich diversity of Black people in the United States and their life experiences. (Read findings from the first survey in “Faith Among Black Americans.”) Pew Research Center conducted this survey to understand Black Americans’ views about legalizing marijuana and whether Black Americans favor or oppose key marijuana policy proposals, such as releasing people from prison or expunging criminal records for marijuana-related offenses.
The online survey of 3,912 Black Americans was conducted Oct. 4-17, 2021. The survey includes 1,025 Black adults on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), and 2,887 Black adults on Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel. Respondents on both panels are recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Recruiting panelists by phone or mail ensures that nearly all U.S. Black adults have a chance of selection. This gives us confidence that any sample can represent the whole population (see our Methods 101 explainer on random sampling). Here are the questions used for the survey of Black adults, along with responses, and its methodology.
The views of Black Americans on this question are similar to those of the public overall. About six-in-ten U.S. adults overall (57%) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 31% say it should be legal for medical purposes only and 11% say it should not be legal at all.
The survey comes as Black adults are disproportionately likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses, according to FBI data. Though non-Hispanic, single-race Black and White Americans used marijuana at roughly comparable rates in 2020, Black people accounted for 39% of all marijuana possession arrests in the U.S. despite being only 12% of the U.S. population.
Black Americans’ views on legalization differ notably by party identification and ideology. Similar shares of Black Democrats and Black Republicans say marijuana use should be legal (88% and 85%, respectively), though views differ somewhat on the type of legalization. Roughly six-in-ten Black Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party (61%) say medical and recreational marijuana use should be legal, compared with roughly half of Black Republicans and Republican leaners (48%). By contrast, a greater share of Black Republicans than Black Democrats say marijuana should be legal for medical use only (37% vs. 27%).
Black adults across the ideological spectrum generally agree that marijuana use should be legal. The vast majority of Black adults who describe their political views as liberal say marijuana should be legal (93%), while slightly smaller shares of Black moderates (86%) and Black conservatives (83%) say the same. However, views differ on the types of marijuana use that should be legal. Black liberals and moderates are most likely to favor the legalization of medical and recreational use (70% and 58%, respectively), while conservatives are fairly divided, with similar shares favoring legalization of medical and recreational use (41%) or medical use only (42%).
When it comes to nationality, similar shares of Black adults born abroad and in the United States say marijuana should be legal (87% vs. 85%). However, a greater share of Black adults born in the U.S. than Black immigrants say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use (58% vs. 47%). Four-in-ten Black immigrants, in turn, say marijuana should be legal for medical use only, compared with 27% of U.S.-born Black adults.
Most Black adults favor easing criminal penalties for those with marijuana convictions
Around three-quarters of Black adults (74%) favor releasing people from prison who are being held only for marijuana-related offenses, and just as many favor removing or expunging marijuana-related offenses from criminal records. In both cases, about half of Black adults say they strongly favor these reforms.
Majorities of both Black Republicans and Black Democrats favor both of these steps. However, Black Republicans are somewhat less likely than Black Democrats to favor releasing people from prison for marijuana-related offenses (64% vs. 77%). The partisan gap is narrower when it comes to expunging criminal records for marijuana-related offenses: 72% of Black Republicans favor this, compared with 77% of Black Democrats.
A majority of Black adults across the ideological spectrum favor releasing people with marijuana convictions from prison and expunging marijuana offenses from criminal records. Roughly eight-in-ten Black adults who describe their political views as liberal say they favor releasing people from prison (81%) and expunging criminal records (82%) for marijuana-related offenses, with a clear majority saying they strongly favor these changes. Smaller majorities of Black adults who describe their political views as moderate or conservative support both policies.
Black registered voters are more likely than those who are not registered to support these changes. Nearly eight-in-ten Black registered voters say they favor releasing people from prison (78%) and expunging criminal records (77%) for marijuana-related offenses. By comparison, roughly two-thirds of Black adults who are not registered to vote (65%) say the same for both measures.
According to the survey, Black adults are more likely than U.S. adults overall to support releasing people from prison and expunging criminal records for marijuana-related offenses. While 74% of Black adults favor releasing people from prison for marijuana-related offenses, this share falls to roughly two-thirds among U.S. adults overall (67%). Likewise, 74% of Black adults favor expunging marijuana-related offenses from criminal records, while 61% of U.S. adults overall say the same.