While support for legalizing marijuana may have not yet soared to the same peak for the general population as it did for young adults living in Haight-Ashbury in the summer or 1969, the numbers continue to get, well, higher. A total of 57 percent of U.S. adults said they were in favor of legalizing marijuana in a 2016 Pew Center Research survey. That’s a tremendous jump from 1990.
General Population by the Numbers
57 percent: U.S. adults in favor of marijuana legalization in 2016
32 percent: U.S. adults in favor of legalization in 2006
16 percent: U.S. adults in favor of legalization in 1990
Support by Generation, Political Party
The Pew study, which polled 1,201 U.S. adults, also uncovered a number of notable differences in opinion based on generational and political factors. Millennials were by far the greatest supporters of legalizing marijuana use, followed by Generation Xers and Baby Boomers. The numbers here, too, have gotten much higher over the past ~30 years.
Generations by the Numbers
The most notable increase in support comes from the Baby Boomers. A mere 17 percent was in favor of legalization back in 1990, while a hefty 56 percent said yes in 2016.
Political Parties by the Numbers
Democrats are significantly more supportive than Republicans when it comes to marijuana legalization, with 66 percent of Democrats in favor of legalization to the Republicans’ 41 percent.
While Democrats' opinions on legalization are more homogeneous within the part, Republicans are more starkly divided on the issue across generations, as evidenced by a 2014 Pew Center Research survey.
Republicans by Generation
63 percent: GOP Millennials in favor of legalization in 2014
47 percent: GOP Generation Xers in favor of legalization in 2014
38 percent: GOP Baby Boomers in favor of legalization in 2014
17 percent: GOP Silent Generation in favor of legalization in 2014
Boomer (left), Silent Generation (right).
Not pictured: likely Republicans.
Why the Changing Attitudes?
While the changing attitudes align with the increasing number of states that are making marijuana use legal, Medscape reports attitudes began shifting around 2006. That’s about the midpoint of when it seems people began to look more favorably upon marijuana use, with fewer adults perceiving health risk from semi-regular use.
Stats from a study co-authored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s Wilson Compton and Carlos Blanco (among other authors) show the percentage of adults who perceive “great risk of harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week“ dropping from 50 percent in 2002 to 33 percent in 2014, a period of time during which adult use only increased from 10.4 percent to 13.3 percent
NIDA’s stats correspond to additional stats form the 2014 Pew survey, which showed the majority of U.S. adults feel alcohol is a greater risk than marijuana, both for individual health and society as a whole. A striking 69 percent of adults said alcohol was harmful to people’s health, and 63 percent said alcohol was harmful to society. Only 15 percent and 23 percent, respectively, said the same about marijuana.
Is the shift in perceived health risk the driver of public opinion about legalization? We may never know for certain, but one thing is sure: support for legalization is high as ever.
Dan Ogden is a 20+ year veteran of the executive search industry, having covered operations, regulatory and consulting verticals within capital markets as well as data science, data analytics and, more recently, the cannabis industry within search firm and internal corporate HR leadership roles. Dan is Principal of the practice at Delta 9, the Western Hemisphere's' only dedicated cannabis industry executive search firm. To find out how Delta 9's proprietary, trademarked end-to-end recruiting methodology can help you find the key executives to make your company thrive and grow in the cannabis industry, shoot us an email, or give us a ring at 212.390.8190.