Marijuana legalization support at record high

A man smokes a joint at a pro-marijuana "4/20" celebration in front of the state capitol building April 20, 2010, in Denver. Getty Images

Never before have more Americans believed legalizing marijuana was the right course for the country.

In a new Gallup poll, 50 percent of respondents in a nationwide survey said they believed it was time to make pot legal. About 46 percent came out against it.

Support for legalizing marijuana tended to be stronger among younger, more liberal groups, according to Gallup. Legalization received 62 approval among those aged 18 to 29, but got only 31 percent approval among those 65 and older. Liberals were twice as likely as conservatives to favor legalizing marijuana.

In a release, Gallup writes: "When Gallup first asked about legalizing marijuana, in 1969, 12 percent of Americans favored it, while 84 percent were opposed. Support remained in the mid-20s in Gallup measures from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but has crept up since, passing 30 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2009 before reaching the 50 percent level in this year's Oct. 6-9 annual Crime survey."

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If the steady climb in public support for marijuana legalization continues at its current pace, politicians will soon have to address the laws that fly in the face of that movement in opinion.

Already, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana is America's preferred illegal drug. In 2009, the NIDA released a report estimating that 28.5 million Americans age 12 and older had abused marijuana at least once in the year prior. By contrast, 51.9 percent of Americans age 12 and older (or roughly 100 million people) had used alcohol at least once in the 30 days prior to being surveyed; while 23.7 percent had binged (5+ drinks within 2 hours.)

Last year, Gallup released a poll claiming as many as 70 percent of Americans approved of the use of medical marijuana.

This growing change in public opinion comes at a critical time for marijuana policy in America. Sixteen states have legalized the use of medical marijuana in some form, and some are even considering decriminalizing the drug's recreational use. However, the federal government, while once suggesting it would leave it up to the states, has begun promising enforce federal drug laws when it comes to marijuana. The feds recently sent letters warning that they will soon be cracking down heavily on California's famed and large medical marijuana industry.

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