Legalize It?: American Public Opinion on Marijuana Legalization


In the history of the United States, few issues have been as hotly contested as marijuana legalization. Some view pot as a gateway drug that opens the door to the abuse of illicit substances. Others feel it’s a medicinal marvel that eases their pain and decreases their anxiety. According to research, support for marijuana legalization has steadily grown in the past decadeand 29 states along with D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form.

To gain an insider’s view on this controversial topic, we surveyed over 1,000 men and women across the United States. Along with exploring how gender, religion, and age might come into play, we got the scoop on what people really think about marijuanathe drug’s impact on society, its effects on people’s health, and its influence on the economy. Read on for a unique look at the subject.

Pot Legalization Opinions by Age, Sex, and Religion

marijuana voting demographics

Despite research to the contrary, according to our survey, older people may actually be more likely to support marijuana legalization. Over half of our respondents 65 or older say they voted for legalization, compared with 39 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 42 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds. (Note that between 35 and 47 percent of respondents in each age group reported the issue was not on the ballot.)

Other research has shown that men are more likely than women to be pro-marijuana, quite possibly because they are more likely to smoke it. However, in our survey, men’s and women’s opinions were quite similar. A slightly higher percentage of men report voting yes and noand the difference can likely be attributed to the discrepancy between men and women reporting the issue was not up for vote.

Looking at respondents’ religions yields more interesting results. Atheists were the strongest group in support of marijuana, with 51 percent voting for legalization, but only by a hair. Interestingly, 49 percent of Catholic respondents voted yesthough morally opposed to recreational marijuana, the religion supports medical use of the drug. Additionally, 46 percent of Hindu respondents, 44 percent of agnostic participants, and 43 percent of Buddhist respondents voted affirmatively.

Hindu participants had the largest proportion of no votesover 38 percent. Though in general Hindu philosophy morally opposes recreational drug use, drugs have historically played a role in worship, and some Hindu mystics reportedly use marijuana to enhance spiritual experiences. Christian and Protestant respondents were also more likely to report voting no.

Muslim respondents who voted were split fairly equally for or against marijuana. Pew Research Center reports Muslims comprise 1 percent of the U.S. population, but nearly 67 percent of our Muslim participants reported marijuana legalization was not on their ballot.

Marijuana Legalization: Effects on Economy and Society

economic and social effects of marijuana legalization

Most experts agree that legalizing marijuana has a positive impact on the economy. Take Colorado, for instance: Marijuana legalization sparked over 18,000 new jobs and $2.4 billion in economic activity in 2015. Part of this boost comes in the form of services and goods, such as warehouse space and equipment. Among our participants, 66 percent believe legalization would have a positive impact on the economy, and another 18 percent say it might. Only around 10 percent don’t believe legalized marijuana would positively affect the economy.

When it comes to the way marijuana legalization affects society, the jury is still out. For states that have legalized marijuana, data about the impact on use among youth and adults, automobile crashes, crime and public safety, as well as medical effectiveness tend to be scant, contradictory, or unreliable. Our respondents, too, did not agree: Around 35 percent anticipate just neutral changes on society in the event of legalization. Another 32 percent expect positive changes, while 22 percent don’t anticipate any changes. Only around 8 percent predict a negative outcome (and fewer than 1 percent anticipate anarchy).

The Effects of Marijuana on Health

negative effects of marijuana

When it comes to health effects, marijuana draws mixed reviews from experts and laypeople alike. Many tout its medicinal benefits: Marijuana is used to treat glaucoma, enhance lung health, help control seizures, inhibit cancer, and more. However, 43 percent do say that marijuana has adverse effects on learning and mental capabilities, though many believe it has no negative health effects. According to the CDC, marijuana use has several potential drawbacks, including its short-term and long-term effects on the brain, the potential for increased risk of heart problems, and possible links with testicular cancer.

Reasons People are For or Against Marijuana Legalization

why do americans want marijuana to be illegal or legal?

As with any issue, some people are firmly planted on one side or another for specific  reasons. When it comes to the legalization of marijuana, 63 percent of our respondents cite the regulatory benefits (such as tax revenue) as an advantage. In addition, 58 percent say legalization makes sense because pot isn’t as dangerous as other drugs. The expense and ineffectiveness of the current enforcement of marijuana laws is another top reason. Plus, half of our participants feel that marijuana is an excellent medicinal cure.

On the downside, the top two reasons (though only cited by 16 percent of participants apiece) are that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to more serious substances and marijuana is dangerous for young people. Nearly 15 percent say they’re against recreational marijuana but support medical marijuana, while around 10 percent say the drug is harmful for society as well as for individuals.

Government Involvement in Marijuana Laws

marijuana government interference

When it comes to the states where marijuana is already legal, who should enforce the laws? While 18 percent of our participants say the federal government should, a whopping 64 percent would prefer the government stay out of it. Another 18 percent say they’re not sure.

So who should be in charge of marijuana regulation? According to 41 percent of our respondents, a combination of federal and state government involvement is the best choice; however, 37 percent believe state governments should go it alone. Fewer than 12 percent prefer the federal government take charge, while another 11 percent don’t want any federal or state government involvement.

Many people who support marijuana legalization have been critical of the federal government’s role. While legal marijuana remains a rapidly growing industry, the federal government has not made it easy for the sector to thrive. Despite the fact that it’s legal in several states, it remains illegal on a federal level. That means marijuana businesses can’t take advantage of even basic banking services, such as opening a line of credit. These businesses also are denied corporate income tax deductions.

Marijuana in Your Life

Like most debates, the legalization of marijuana isn’t all black and white. Whether or not you agree marijuana should be legalized, you can acknowledge there are many shades of gray. Should people be allowed to smoke in public? Should marijuana stores be available in neighborhoods and near schools, selling appealing edibles, such as candies and cookies?

And regardless of your stance on the issues, it’s important to decide the role you want marijuana to play in your life. While it may be legal in many areas, marijuana is still a drug—and people who use it can experience ill effects, from memory loss to substance use disorder. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction or needs help cutting back, contact us at (561) 588-8323 today to speak with someone who can help.


We surveyed 1,009 people and our respondents freely chose to participate in the survey. There were no prerequisites or qualifiers for taking this survey.


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Want to use our study? Please feel free! All that we ask is that you include a link back to this page so readers can learn more about the study.


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