More than five months after two states voted to legalize marijuana — and as a host of other states consider the same — a majority of Americans now say pot should be legal to consume. That's according to a new survey published Thursday by Pew Research, which reports that 52 percent of people polled by the firm indicated support for legalization, with 45 percent who think it should remain illegal for people to manufacture, sell, and smoke marijuana. Now, that might sound like a swelling victory for pro-legalization advocates — and to a certain degree, it is — but these numbers are part of a fairly steady (if recently accelerating) historical trend, as evidenced by prior polls on the same question:
Today's poll is a fresh reminder of how, in many states, marijuana is already installed in people's lives, whether it's legally grown and sold as a medicine (as it is in Arizona, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont), decriminalized for small amounts (as it is in Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio), or both (in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington State). Not all of these are recent developments: Alaska legalized the personal growing and consumption of weed in 1975. And then there's the fact that, regardless of regulation, people continue to smoke weed — often with impunity. "There is no significant difference," the Pew study notes, "in lifetime or recent use [of marijuana] between people in states with some form of legalized marijuana and those in other states."
Such familiarity — legal or otherwise — seems to have occasioned a shift in the way people think about the morality of smoking. According to Pew, only a third of Americans consider the activity immoral, down from half in 2006. (Today, 50 percent consider it "not a moral issue," up from 35 percent in 2006. The number of Americans who think smoking weed is totally morally sound, on the other hand, has crept up only a little bit, from 10 percent to 12 percent.)
All of which puts even more pressure on lawmakers in states like Oregon (which borders the vanguard state of Washington), where legalization advocates are pushing to reform the state's drug laws to allow for recreational consumption of marijuana. Oregon, of course, has a lot of company in that regard. A dossier compiled by Rolling Stone portends that full legalization is likely to be voted on at least six other states, including California, Nevada, Rhode Island, Maine, Alaska, and Vermont.
The Pew poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.