Like many, I’ve long been shocked at how quickly public opinion has turned on same-sex marriage, a subject nearly unheard-of just 20 years ago. Now there’s evidence the tide is turning in a battle that has been raging for far longer: legalizing marijuana.
The Pew Research Center reported this week that, for the first time in four decades of polling, a majority of Americans now support legalization. Not medical marijuana or decriminalization, but legal production, regulation, taxation and sale of the drug. The poll found 52 percent of Americans say pot should be legal, with 45 percent opposed.
The shift in opinion has gathered steam in the last decade, as voters began changing state marijuana laws through ballot questions and a new generation of pot-smokers pushed the issue. Just 12 percent of Americans supported legalization in 1969, a number that rose in the ‘70s, fell in the ‘80s, and has been climbing since. Pew found that support for legalization grew by 11 points since 2010.
Fully 65 percent of Millennials – born since 1980 – now support legalization, Pew found, while 54 percent of Generation X, which preceded them, agrees. Support among Baby Boomers, the generation that brought marijuana into the mainstream, fell to 17 percent in 1990, but has rebounded to 50 percent.
The survey found that fewer people think marijuana is a moral issue than a few decades ago and that 77 percent now believe it has legitimate medical uses. And while there are some partisan differences, with Republicans less likely to support full legalization, equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats agree that the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states – Colorado and Washington, so far – where voters have decided to legalize it. President Obama and Attorney General Holder should take heed.
As with same-sex marriage, Americans are still divided on the subject, but the trend line is becoming clear. It’s time political leaders, who have largely hidden from the issue ever since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, caught up with the people they claim to represent.