As three-fourths of Americans now indicate that national marijuana legalization is inevitable, regardless of whether they support it or not, it seems that the United States is on the brink of change. In a recent telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 75% of both supporters and opponents of legal marijuana reported that it will eventually be legal nationwide for individuals to sell and use pot without criminal offense. While 39% of respondents declared that cannabis should be legal for personal use and 44% said it should be legal for medicinal use only, just 16% of the Americans surveyed believed marijuana should be illegal for all.
Changing Attitudes on Marijuana Legalization
With more than 20 states and Washington DC allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes, two states have already legalized recreational marijuana and it is only a matter of time before it has happened in more states. After all, a recent Gallup Poll reported that support for the legalization of marijuana products has cracked the 50% mark for the first time in history. Many believe that the most important factor in the changing attitudes surrounding legalization is the aging of the U.S. population. Support for legalization is at 62% among adults under 30, 56% among those between 30 to 49 years old, 49% among those aged 50 to 64, and only 31% for senior citizens over 65. As a result, the prospects for legalization of marijuana are likely going to continue rising as time passes until it will inevitably occur nationally.
Attitudes surrounding the idea of legalizing pot have also likely been impacted by the fact that many Americans consider alcohol to be more dangerous than marijuana. When asked which of these drugs is more harmful to human health, a whopping 69% of respondents say alcohol and just 15% consider marijuana to be more dangerous. If marijuana were as widely available as alcohol due to legalization, many Americans do not think it would be more harmful to society than alcohol already is.
Increasing Support for Marijuana-Related Sentence Reductions
In addition to public support for legalizing pot being at an all-time high at 54%, there is even more agreement among Americans that people should not serve time in jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana. In fact, 76% of Americans reports that minor marijuana possession should not be terms for jail time if pot is not legalized. While views on legalization remain divided along party lines, 79% of Democrats, 78% of independents, and 69% of Republicans believe possession of small amounts of marijuana is not grounds for conviction.
More Americans are taking the standpoint that marijuana users are not a threat to society and arresting individuals for small amounts of marijuana will simply fill up jails with taxpayer money. Although the survey was evenly divided in 2001, 63% of respondents in 2014 reported that states should move away from mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. With knowledge on the public’s shifting attitudes on drug penalties, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also has publicly supported less strict sentences for non-violent drug traffickers to reserve harsher penalties to more serious drug offenders.
The Future for Marijuana Legalization in the United States
The new survey report from the Pew Research Center comes at one of the most pivotal moments in today’s national debate over how to best deal with drug abuse. Between 2009 and 2013, 40 states took some legal actions to ease their drug laws regarding the use of marijuana to provide less punitive responses. Bipartisan efforts in Congress have also been ongoing to give federal judges more discretion in low-level marijuana drug cases and to lessen the mandatory sentences for some drug crimes involving cannabis products.
Although it cannot be clear what the future will hold for legalization, more and more Americans feel that the public’s shifting attitudes on marijuana use will cause major changes in U.S. drug policies in the coming years. As the majority of citizens are now in support of legalization on a national level and reducing mandatory minimums, the nation seems to be on the brink of welcoming the recreational use and sale of marijuana without criminal offense.