Poll: Nearly half support legalization of marijuana

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For the first time since CBS News began asking the question, as many Americans now think marijuana use should be legal as think it should not.

Support for legalizing marijuana inched up slightly from 45 percent in September to 47 percent today, according to a CBS News poll, conducted Nov. 16-19. Another 47 percent think it should remain prohibited. A year ago, a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, opposed legalizing marijuana use.

This shift in public opinion was seen at the ballot box this month, when Colorado and Washington became the first states in the nation to approve of recreational marijuana use among adults over the age of 21. Marijuana use of any kind, however, is still illegal under federal law. It's unclear at this point how the Obama administration intends to respond.

According to exit polls, legalizing marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington with the support of a majority of younger voters under the age of 45. Nationwide, this pattern continues: a majority of Americans under the age of 45 support legalizing marijuana, while more older Americans - particularly those over 65 - oppose it.

Americans are divided by party on this issue as well. While 51 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents support legalizing marijuana, 66 percent of Republicans oppose it.

Marijuana for medical use

Support for medical marijuana, now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, is growing as well.

Eighty-three percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to prescribe small amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses, the poll shows - up from 77 percent a year ago and 62 percent back in 1997. A majority of Americans of all ages - as well as most Republicans, Democrats, and independents - favor allowing this.

Still, just 29 percent of Americans think that most of the marijuana that is purchased in this country through state-authorized medical marijuana programs is being used to alleviate suffering from serious medical illnesses, while 53 percent think it is used for other purposes. This hasn't changed much from a year ago.

Even though marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, most Americans don't think this is a matter that should involve the federal government. Fifty-nine percent of Americans think whether or not to legalize marijuana should be left up to each individual state government to decide - including 49 percent of those who oppose legalizing marijuana in general.

For full poll results see next page.


This poll was conducted by telephone from November 16-19, 2012 among 1,100 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of registered voters could be plus or minus three points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
  • Fred Backus

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