In February, the NORML Foundation commissioned a national poll to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission, which issued a report recommending that cannabis be fully decriminalized for adult use. This poll confirms two important trends in American attitudes regarding cannabis policy: There is an ever-increasing percentage of voters who support abandoning prohibition for decriminalization and legalization; and, to reach majority support in this country for serious reform of the cannabis laws, reformers have to better educate and reach out to women, parents (ages 25 to 50), Republicans and Hispanics.

NORML’s question: Thirty-five years ago, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended removing criminal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults. Do you support or oppose a law in Congress that would eliminate federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults and allow states to adopt their own policies on marijuana? The results:

Strongly support: 24%
Support: 49%
Somewhat support: 25%
Oppose: 48%
Somewhat oppose: 16%
Strongly oppose: 32%
Not sure: 3%
(Margin of error = 3%)

This is the highest percentage yet in a NORML poll to favor letting states set their own policies. (Last year, NORML asked a similar question; there’s been an apparent gain of three points since then, up from 46 percent.) This data highlights the 80 percent swing in the public’s attitude favoring cannabis legalization in the last 10 years.

The country is very evenly divided on this question with a few notable exceptions. Voters in the Central and Great Lakes region are the least likely to say they support eliminating federal penalties (46 percent in favor), while half of those in the South and the West are in favor, and 51 percent of Easterners support eliminating federal penalties.

Those between the ages of 30 and 64 are the most supportive of eliminating federal penalties and allowing states to decide (about 52 percent), while 43 percent of seniors and 45 percent of those under 30 are in favor of such a move. Support for such a law increases as education increases, from about 44 percent in favor among those with high-school educations and some college, to 53 percent in favor among those with a college degree. Men are more likely than women to support elimination of federal penalties for marijuana use (57 to 41 percent, respectively). Among races and ethnic groups, support for eliminating federal penalties is strongest among whites (51 percent) and African-Americans (49 percent). Support is very low among Hispanics (26 percent). It is strongest among those living in the suburbs (55 percent) and lowest among those living in rural areas (46 percent).

A majority of both Catholics and Protestants are opposed to eliminating federal penalties. The only religious group that supports reform are Jews (56 percent), while nonbelievers and non-churchgoers are in favor by 63 percent and 75 percent, respectively.

A majority of both Democrats (51 percent) and independents (62 percent) support such legislation, compared to 37 percent of Republicans in favor. Democrats and independents generally favor states’ rights more than Republicans. Those who self-identify as politically “progressive” support cannabis-law reform at 80 percent, while—surprisingly—28 percent of libertarians strongly oppose reform, though over 70 percent support it. The lowest and highest income brackets support reform, though most of the entire middle-income class is still opposed.

NORML’s prescription to achieve a “marijuana majority?" Increase educational efforts directed at the general public and create better grassroots outreach to current stakeholders who favor reform.

—Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of NORML.
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