Note: For the latest data on this topic, read our 2022 post.
Two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 32% today.
Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (91%) say marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use (59%) or that it should be legal just for medical use (32%). Fewer than one-in-ten (8%) prefer to keep marijuana illegal in all circumstances, according to the survey, conducted Sept. 3 to 15 on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.
As in the past, there are wide partisan and generational differences in views of marijuana legalization. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (78%) say marijuana use should be legal. Republicans and Republican leaners are less supportive, with 55% in favor of legalization and 44% opposed.
Majorities of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) continue to be the least supportive of legalization: Only 35% favor legalizing marijuana, while 64% are opposed.
The generational divide in views of marijuana legalization exists within both party coalitions. Large majorities of Boomer (81%), Gen X (76%) and Millennial Democrats (78%) say the use of marijuana should be made legal, compared with 53% of Silent Generation Democrats who say this.
Millennial Republicans also broadly favor legalizing marijuana use; in fact, Republicans in this generation are almost as supportive of legalization as Millennial Democrats (71% vs. 78%). Gen X and Boomer Republicans are more closely divided, with 55% of Gen X Republicans and 49% of Boomer Republicans favoring legalization. GOP members of the Silent Generation are the least likely to favor marijuana legalization: Just 21% say marijuana use should be legal, while three-quarters (76%) say it should not.
Around nine-in-ten Americans favor legalization for recreational or medical purposes
In addition to asking respondents about whether marijuana use should be legal in general, the Center asked a separate group of respondents about legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (59%) favor legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, while another 32% say it should be legal for medical use only. Only 8% say it should not be legal.
About two-thirds of Democrats (68%) say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use, compared with 49% of Republicans. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say it should be legal just for medical purposes (38% vs. 28%) or that it should not be legal at all (12% vs. 4%).
Younger adults are somewhat more likely than older adults to say that marijuana use should be legal for both medical and recreational use. About two-thirds (69%) of those ages 18 to 29 say it should be legal for both types of use, compared with 48% of those ages 65 and older. Most adults 65 and over nonetheless favor legalization in some form.
The growth in public support for legal marijuana has come as a growing number of jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational purposes.
Meanwhile, 33 states – plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – have legalized the drug for medical purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law. However, several Democratic candidates for president have proposals to legalize or decriminalize marijuana use.