A poll is only as good as the questions it asks. Framing is everything. And for a while, we’ve only had a glimpse at what Americans think about cannabis legalization, not the why behind their views. A recent survey posed the pot question in a novel way, revealing a force behind shifting attitudes that’s particularly fitting for the United States: morality. And for the first time, a new Gallup poll shows most Americans consider weed morally acceptable.
How Shifting Morals Are Driving Popular Support For Cannabis
For years, poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans support drug reform. The most popular position is decriminalization. Even legalization enjoys broad support from 61 percent of the U.S. population, according to a recent Pew survey. Other polls place support even higher, at 64 percent.
And each year, the majority grows, continuing its steady march upward. Sixty-one percent in favor of legalization may represent just a 4 percent increase from the previous year. But it’s a two-fold increase from where we were at the turn of the millennium, when just 31 percent of Americans supported legal weed.
Furthermore, when researchers break down the data along demographic or political party lines, the same trends emerge. The younger and more liberal, the more in favor of legal weed. The older and more conservative, the less, although the generation gap among Republicans is more pronounced.
A new Gallup poll, however, shows that something is operating at the root of these numbers, consistently shaping their distribution along the same predictable lines.
That something is morality.
For the first time, Gallup asked just over 1,000 adults about the morality of consuming alcohol and cannabis. The numbers are telling.
A strong majority of Americans have no moral qualm with alcohol consumption, with 78 percent saying drinking is morally acceptable. Just 19 percent said it was morally wrong.
Cannabis doesn’t enjoy quite as strong a majority as alcohol, but most Americans still think using marijuana is morally acceptable, too.
Only 31 percent of those Gallup surveyed think using marijuana is a moral failing, while 65 percent say it’s morally acceptable.
Religion Highly Influences Moralistic Views On Cannabis
As is fitting for a nation whose puritanism has plagued policy on alcohol and drugs for at least a century, Gallup found that religion was the most influential factor behind moral views on marijuana. And on alcohol consumption, though to a lesser extent.
If you’re a highly religious person, which Gallup measured by how often one goes to church, you’re less likely to agree that cannabis and alcohol are morally acceptable.
Among weekly churchgoers, moral acceptance of cannabis use dropped sharply, down to 41 percent. Alcohol consumption, however, maintained moral acceptability among the majority, with 60 percent having no issue with it.
On the other hand, if you’re an atheist, and a fear of god doesn’t factor into your moral calculus, you’re way more likely to be cool with alcohol and cannabis use. Specifically, 75 of those who seldom, or never, go to church had no moral problem with cannabis use. Eighty-eight percent of those people said drinking was morally acceptable.
Americans and Marijuana
Interestingly, results from Gallup’s morality poll map pretty closely onto the data we already had about Americans’ views of cannabis. The 65 percent of people surveyed who had no moral problem with cannabis is just a few points above the 61 percent in favor of legalization weed.
And again, younger, more liberal folks found alcohol and cannabis consumption more acceptable morally. White people and men were also more accepting of alcohol and cannabis use than other groups.
Ultimately, Gallup’s morality poll demonstrates what cannabis advocates have long recognized. That on this issue, altering the legal landscape depends on overturning entrenched cultural attitudes against cannabis. Fortunately history—and the numbers—are on our side.
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