Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Most Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana for Medical, Recreational Use

Legalizing recreational marijuana viewed as good for local economies; mixed views of impact on drug use, community safety

Legalizing recreational marijuana viewed as good for local economies; mixed views of impact on drug use, community safety

How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand the public’s views about the legalization of marijuana in the United States. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,140 adults from Jan. 16 to Jan. 21, 2024. Everyone who took part in this survey 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.

Here are the questions used for the report and its methodology.

As more states pass laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Americans continue to favor legalization of both medical and recreational use of the drug.

Pie chart shows Only about 1 in 10 U.S. adults say marijuana should not be legal at all

An overwhelming share of U.S. adults (88%) say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use.

Nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%) say that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes, while roughly a third (32%) say that marijuana should be legal for medical use only.

Just 11% of Americans say that the drug should not be legal at all.

Opinions about marijuana legalization have changed little over the past five years, according to the Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan. 16-21, 2024, among 5,14o adults.

The impact of legalizing marijuana for recreational use

While a majority of Americans continue to say marijuana should be legal, there are varying views about the impacts of recreational legalization.

Chart shows How Americans view the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana

About half of Americans (52%) say that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is good for local economies; just 17% think it is bad and 29% say it has no impact.

More adults also say legalizing marijuana for recreational use makes the criminal justice system more fair (42%) than less fair (18%); 38% say it has no impact.

However, Americans have mixed views on the impact of legalizing marijuana for recreational use on:

  • Use of other drugs: About as many say it increases (29%) as say it decreases (27%) the use of other drugs, like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine (42% say it has no impact).
  • Community safety: More Americans say legalizing recreational marijuana makes communities less safe (34%) than say it makes them safer (21%); 44% say it has no impact.

Partisan differences on impact of recreational use of marijuana

There are deep partisan divisions regarding the impact of marijuana legalization for recreational use.

Chart shows Democrats more positive than Republicans on impact of legalizing marijuana

Majorities of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say legalizing recreational marijuana is good for local economies (64% say this) and makes the criminal justice system fairer (58%).

Fewer Republicans and Republican leaners say legalization for recreational use has a positive effect on local economies (41%) and the criminal justice system (27%).

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to cite downsides from legalizing recreational marijuana:

  • 42% of Republicans say it increases the use of other drugs, like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, compared with just 17% of Democrats.
  • 48% of Republicans say it makes communities less safe, more than double the share of Democrats (21%) who say this.

Demographic, partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization

Sizable age and partisan differences persist on the issue of marijuana legalization though small shares of adults across demographic groups are completely opposed to it.

Chart shows Views about legalizing marijuana differ by race and ethnicity, age, partisanship

Older adults are far less likely than younger adults to favor marijuana legalization.

This is particularly the case among adults ages 75 and older: 31% say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use.

By comparison, half of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, and larger shares in younger age groups say the same.

Republicans continue to be less supportive than Democrats of legalizing marijuana for both legal and recreational use: 42% of Republicans favor legalizing marijuana for both purposes, compared with 72% of Democrats.

There continue to be ideological differences within each party:

  • 34% of conservative Republicans say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, compared with a 57% majority of moderate and liberal Republicans.
  • 62% of conservative and moderate Democrats say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while an overwhelming majority of liberal Democrats (84%) say this.

Views of marijuana legalization vary by age within both parties

Along with differences by party and age, there are also age differences within each party on the issue.

Chart shows Large age differences in both parties in views of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use

A 57% majority of Republicans ages 18 to 29 favor making marijuana legal for medical and recreational use, compared with 52% among those ages 30 to 49 and much smaller shares of older Republicans.

Still, wide majorities of Republicans in all age groups favor legalizing marijuana at least for medical use. Among those ages 65 and older, just 20% say marijuana should not be legal even for medical purposes.

While majorities of Democrats across all age groups support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, older Democrats are less likely to say this.

About half of Democrats ages 75 and older (53%) say marijuana should be legal for both purposes, but much larger shares of younger Democrats say the same (including 81% of Democrats ages 18 to 29). Still, only 7% of Democrats ages 65 and older think marijuana should not be legalized even for medical use, similar to the share of all other Democrats who say this.

Views of the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana among racial and ethnic groups

Chart shows Hispanic and Asian adults more likely than Black and White adults to say legalizing recreational marijuana negatively impacts safety, use of other drugs

Substantial shares of Americans across racial and ethnic groups say when marijuana is legal for recreational use, it has a more positive than negative impact on the economy and criminal justice system.

Economy

About half of White (52%), Black (53%) and Hispanic (51%) adults say legalizing recreational marijuana is good for local economies. A slightly smaller share of Asian adults (46%) say the same.

Criminal justice

Across racial and ethnic groups, about four-in-ten say that recreational marijuana being legal makes the criminal justice system fairer, with smaller shares saying it would make it less fair.

However, there are wider racial differences on questions regarding the impact of recreational marijuana on the use of other drugs and the safety of communities.

Use of other drugs

Nearly half of Black adults (48%) say recreational marijuana legalization doesn’t have an effect on the use of drugs like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. Another 32% in this group say it decreases the use of these drugs and 18% say it increases their use.

In contrast, Hispanic adults are slightly more likely to say legal marijuana increases the use of these other drugs (39%) than to say it decreases this use (30%); 29% say it has no impact.

Among White adults, the balance of opinion is mixed: 28% say marijuana legalization increases the use of other drugs and 25% say it decreases their use (45% say it has no impact). Views among Asian adults are also mixed, though a smaller share (31%) say legalization has no impact on the use of other drugs.

Community safety

Hispanic and Asian adults also are more likely to say marijuana’s legalization makes communities less safe: 41% of Hispanic adults and 46% of Asian adults say this, compared with 34% of White adults and 24% of Black adults.

Wide age gap on views of impact of legalizing recreational marijuana

Chart shows Young adults far more likely than older people to say legalizing recreational marijuana has positive impacts

Young Americans view the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in more positive terms compared with their older counterparts.

Clear majorities of adults under 30 say it is good for local economies (71%) and that it makes the criminal justice system fairer (59%).

By comparison, a third of Americans ages 65 and older say legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is good for local economies; about as many (32%) say it makes the criminal justice system more fair.

There also are sizable differences in opinion by age about how legalizing recreational marijuana affects the use of other drugs and the safety of communities.

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information