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Polls say people want legal pot

Pew Research Center poll says majority of Americans OK with legalization of marijuana

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“It’s an issue that has been framed in many different ways within recent years,” says John Strate, a political science professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “But generational replacement is likely the biggest cause for the shift in public opinion. Those older Americans who have traditionally been against legalization are dying out and a younger, more liberal generation has filled the gap.”

Strate, who noted that political scientists would also examine the issue of legalization as a “moral politics” issue, said that the four-decade-long war on drugs has also contributed to a shift in attitudes as more Americans have become aware of marijuana’s medicinal properties as being legitimate and not the bogus red herring previous administrations used it for.

“Elected officials are often reluctant to deal with issues in this category (other examples would be abortion and assisted suicide),” Strate wrote in an email. “Because, whatever positions they take are certain to alienate a certain proportion of the public. Most of these issues are capable of being framed in different ways, so public opinion on some of them can be fluid.”

Yet there also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly baby boomers. Half of boomers now favor legalizing marijuana, among the highest percentages ever. In 1978, 47 percent of boomers favored legalizing marijuana, but support plummeted during the 1980s, reaching a low of 17 percent in 1990. Since 1994, however, the percentage of boomers favoring legalization has doubled, from 24 percent to 50 percent.

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, and coming of age in the 1990s when there was widespread opposition to legalizing pot, has also expressed a dramatic increase in support for legalization – from just 28 percent in 1994 to 42 percent a decade later, and 54 percent currently, according to the Pew study.

Underscoring Strate’s notion of a moral issue being salient, part of the Pew study looked at whether respondents believed smoking pot to be a moral issue. Again, the numbers demonstrate a clear shift in attitude. Currently, 32 percent say that smoking marijuana is morally wrong, an 18-point decline since 2006, when 50 percent responded affirmatively to the question. Over this period, the percentage saying that smoking marijuana is not a moral issue has risen 15 points, from 35 percent in ’06 to 50 percent today.

As for that godforsaken War on Drugs, nearly three-quarters of Americans, 72 percent, say that federal efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth; and 60 percent say the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal.

Last November, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved ballot measures allowing for the personal use of small amounts of weed for recreational use. This brave new frontier, which comes on the heels of legalization’s previous iteration, medical use, now counts 18 states, plus Washington, D.C., as those that have some type of law on the books permitting the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana.

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