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Overwhelming support for legal recreational or medical marijuana in the United States

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As more states, including Virginia and New York, continue to legalize marijuana, an overwhelming proportion of adults in the United States (91%) say that marijuana should either be legal for medical and recreational use (60%) or that it should be legal for medical use Use should be legal only (31%). Less than one in ten (8%) say marijuana shouldn’t be legal for adults.

The new poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center April 5-11, 2021, comes because Democrats in Congress are considering a law that would decriminalize marijuana nationally. Views on marijuana legalization have changed little since 2019.

The Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand public views about the legalization of marijuana, specifically whether marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, medical only, or not at all. For this study, 5,109 US adults were interviewed in early April. All participants are members of the center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online polling panel recruited through a national random sample of residential addresses. This way, almost all US adults have a chance of choice. The poll is weighted to be representative of the adult US population by gender, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, education, and other categories. Read more about the methodology of ATP.

Here are the questions that were used for this report, along with the answers and methodology.

A separate question asking whether marijuana use should be legalized – with no claims made for recreational or medicinal purposes – has shown a steep, long-term increase in support for legalization. From 2000 to 2019, the percentage of Americans who say marijuana should be legal more than doubled.

There have long been age and party differences in attitudes towards marijuana, and they still are today. Very few adults of any age are against legalizing marijuana. However, older adults are far less likely than young people to advocate legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Majorities in all age groups - with the exception of 75 and older - say that marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational uses

This is particularly the case for adults 75 and older: only 32% say marijuana should be legal for recreational and medicinal use, by far the lowest percentage in any age group and 21 percentage points lower than for adults in the next older age group. People aged 65 to 74 (53% of them say it should be legal for both recreational and medical purposes).

There is broader support for legalization for medical and recreational purposes among younger adults, including 70% of adults under the age of 30.

Republicans are more cautious than Democrats about legalizing marijuana for recreational use: 47% of Republicans and Republican-minded Independents are in favor of legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while another 40% say it is for medical use only should be legal. In comparison, 72% of Democrats and Leaner Democrats say marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use, and another 23% say it should be legal for medical use only.

Ideological differences are evident within each party. About four in ten Conservative Republicans (39%) say marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational use, compared with a majority of 60% of moderate and liberal Republicans.

Almost two-thirds of conservative and moderate Democrats (63%) say marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. An overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrats (82%) say the same thing.

There are also racial and ethnic differences in attitudes towards legalizing marijuana. About two-thirds of white (63%) and black (65%) adults say marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational use, compared to smaller proportions of Hispanic (52%) and Asian adults (43%).

While both Republicans and Democrats differ greatly as to whether marijuana should be legal for medicinal and recreational use, there are also age differences within each party.

Republicans 65 and older are far less likely than younger Republicans to advocate legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes

A majority of 63% of Republicans ages 18-29 are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, compared with 53% of 30-49 year olds and 48% of 50-64 year olds. However, only about a quarter of Republicans 65 and older (27%) say marijuana should be legal for both.

Still, large majorities of Republicans of all ages are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Even among Republicans 65 and older, only 12% say marijuana use should not be legal.

While the majority of Democrats and Democrats of all ages are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, older Democrats are less likely to say so. About three-quarters of Democrats ages 18-29 (78%) are in favor of legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, while 64% of those over 65 say the same. Roughly equal proportions of Democrats ages 30 to 49 (73%) and 50 to 64 (70%) say marijuana should be legalized for medical and recreational use.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report along with the answers and methodology.

Ted Van Green is a research analyst with a focus on US politics at the Pew Research Center.

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