You may have had a feeling that public support for marijuana increased last year, given the outcome of November’s election and a generally dissolving social stigma around the plant. If so, your suspicions were correct.
The General Social Survey has recently published proof that support for legalization surged last year. According to the survey, in 2016, 57 percent of Americans polled stated that they “think the use of marijuana should be legal,” a five percent increase from 2014.
Considered the “gold standard for public opinion research,” the General Social Survey is large, nationwide, and conducted biannually. Similar national surveys reported percentages of legalization supporters ranging from the upper 50s to the lower 60s.
Not surprisingly, the surveys results show a bit of division between age cohorts and political party affiliations. Where age is concerned, senior citizens, 65 and older, reported the least support for marijuana legalization, at only 42 percent. Though that number has certainly increased in the last four years, the other age groups surveyed—18 to 34, 35 to 49, and 60-64—all show percentages in the upper 50s and lower 60s, with the youngest age group boasting the highest level of support.
All age groups showed an increase in support, but surveyed 50 to 64-year-olds showed the least amount of growth since the last General Social Survey in 2014.
The political divide on the issue of legalization has become much more pronounced in recent years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, legalization was a bipartisan issue, with very little differentiation in support numbers between Republicans and Democrats. But, since then, Democrats and Independents (and other third party affiliates) have shown much stronger support than conservatives. In fact, a whopping 20 percentage points stand between the Democrats (and Independents) and Republicans.
Not only do Republicans report much less support for legalization than their progressive counterparts, but the growth of support in the Republican party has nearly flatlined. Between the 2014 and 2016 General Social Surveys, Republicans support for legalization rose just one percent, versus a three percent increase by Democrats and an eight percent increase by Independents.
The Republican reputation for opposing legalization had many marijuana supporters nervous as the new administration transitioned into office. Despite these concerns, the Trump administration has commented little on how it will move forward with the cannabis issue. Though Attorney General Jeff Sessions has publicly spoken out against legalization, he has not implied that his Justice Department will pursue marijuana cases any differently than the previous General’s.
Even in notoriously democratic states, like Massachusetts, the fight for widespread cannabis legalization has been an uphill battle. With Canada’s decision to implement nationwide marijuana legalization by next summer, many Americans are hopeful that progression on this side of the border will continue.