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Who Supports Legalization?

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A new poll from YouGov US suggests that Republicans are beginning to narrowly support legalizing marijuana. The July poll has Republicans supporting marijuana legalization by a narrow margin of 45 percent in favor, while 42 percent opposes. In December 2015, it was 50 percent of Republicans in opposition to legalization with only 36 percent in favor. Back in January 2014, it was 60 percent of Republicans opposing and 28 percent in support.

The strongest support for legalization continues to be expressed by Democrats, who favor legalization by a margin of 63 percent to 25 percent. Independents support legalization 55 percent to 33 percent.  Libertarians, who have historically been some of the strongest supporters for legalization, were not included in the party identification categories. Overall, 55 percent of the nation support legalization, with 33 percent opposed and 12 percent not sure.

Looking at age groups, 63 percent of those under 30 support legalization, followed by 60 percent of those 45 to 64. Legalization is supported by 64 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of whites, and 44 percent of blacks.  Opposition to legalization is about the same among blacks (35 percent) as with Whites (33 percent); the big difference here is with respect to uncertainty about the issue—21 percent of blacks are “not sure” compared to 13 percent of whites.

Support for marijuana legalization is strongest in the West (65 percent) and Northeast (58 percent), while lower in the South (53 percent) and the Midwest (46 percent).

Does the use of marijuana lead to the use of hard drugs?

Nearly half (49 percent)of those 65 and older believe this is true, as do 43 percent of Republicans. Overall, 31 percent of the public believes in the gateway theory, while 52 percent disagree with this claim. Looking at this data in terms of race, 35 percent of blacks and 32 percent of whites believe the gateway claim. Geographically, acceptance of the gateway theory is strongest in the Midwest (38 percent) and weakest in the Northeast (26 percent) and the West (25 percent). This data suggest a strong connection between belief in the gateway theory and opposition to legalization.

However, 65 percent of Americans agree that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth, including 56 percent of those 65 or older, 54 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of those living in the Midwest.

Also, 57 percent of Americans believe the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have decided to allow marijuana use. Support for federal restraint includes 46 percent of those 65 and older, 50 percent of blacks, 48 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of those in the Midwest.

Pulling these last three items together—even among groups opposed to legalization—there is strong support for the argument that marijuana laws are too costly, ineffective and that the federal government should not interfere with state-level reform.

In this survey, the data suggests that 46 percent of Americans have tried marijuana, including 40 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of those living in the Midwest. Consequently, it is clear that support for legalization extends beyond those who have actually used marijuana at some time in their lives.

The survey was conducted using an opt-in internet panel using sample matching. Based on the pool of participants, a random sample stratified by various demographic categories to accord with U.S. Census data about the make-up of the overall population was used to produce the reported survey results.

Survey data, and all findings from statistical data, are subject to evaluation in terms of reliability and validity. Reliability concerns the issue of consistent measurement. Validity concerns the issue of getting an accurate measurement. In other words, any survey can produce reliable data in the sense that it can produce consistent results when conducted with different sample populations. Validity, though, is best thought of in terms of getting correct results. With surveys the best guide to validity is to look at other surveys, the more surveys showing similar results, the more valid the overall results.

The YouGov survey, one of many surveys describing where Americans stand on marijuana legalization, was conducted according to generally accepted research techniques and is generally consistent with other survey data. As such, it is a good snapshot of public opinion and a good indicator of the status of legalization efforts in the United States.

Traditional opposition to marijuana legalization remains but is weakening. Prohibition is vulnerable. The public does not fully embrace the gateway theory any more, younger voters who support legalization are beginning to outnumber older voters who oppose it and even people who oppose legalization believe it is too costly and that state reform should continue without federal government interference.

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