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As Legalization Laws Take Effect in Colorado and Washington, Polls Show Support for Marijuana Reform Remains Strong

Daniel Robelo

The possession and home cultivation of marijuana became legal in Colorado this week, just as the latest in a series of polls was released showing sustained support for marijuana reform – and a strong majority opposing any federal attempt to thwart Colorado’s new law.

According to Gallup's new poll, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans believe the federal government should keep its hands off Colorado and Washington – which also voted to legally regulate marijuana on Election Day and whose law came into effect on December 6. Forty-three percent of those who oppose marijuana legalization on principle nevertheless believe the feds should not intervene when states decide to do so. The authors conclude that a “significant majority of Americans would advise the federal government to focus on other issues.”

On the broader question of legalization, the poll reported similar levels of support this year as it did last year (48 percent compared to 50 percent), but with a four-point margin of error. The pollsters point out that “Americans' views are roughly the same as they were last October, but as recently as 2005, only about a third of Americans supported marijuana legalization.” Majorities of younger voters, Democrats, and Independents continue to poll in favor of legalization.

Gallup’s poll comes on the heels of a slew of other polls showing similar results. Last week, a CBS News poll also found that a substantial majority of Americans thinks the issue of marijuana should be left to the states, even among those who think marijuana should remain illegal. Fifty-nine percent believe the decision of whether or not to legalize marijuana should be left up to each individual state government – including 65 percent of Republicans and nearly half (49 percent) of those who oppose legalizing marijuana in general.

Confirming what several polls have demonstrated, both Gallup and CBS show that the country is basically divided on marijuana legalization, with demographic trends suggesting support will surge in the years to come. CBS also found a major increase in support for medical marijuana. Eighty-three percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to prescribe small amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses – up from 77 percent a year ago and 62 percent in 1997.

Three other recent polls released in the past few weeks show even higher levels of support for legally regulating marijuana.  A Quinnipiac poll found 51 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed to making marijuana legal in the U.S. The author predicted, "It seems likely…that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."  A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 58 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana, with only 39 percent opposed.  And an Angus-Reid Public Opinion poll of Canadians and Americans showed that majorities in both countries favor legalization (57 percent and 54 percent respectively), while two-thirds (66 percent) of people in both nations believe that marijuana will be legalized within the decade.

Taken together, the results of these polls demonstrate that public opinion continues to shift in favor of marijuana reform. They show that a sizable majority of Americans believes that states should be able to move forward with the responsible regulation of marijuana. And they suggest that the Obama administration would be wise to allow them to do so.

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