A new Gallup poll finds the highest level of public support for marijuana legalization since the organization first posed the question almost five decades ago.
In the survey released Wednesday, 64 percent of Americans favor making marijuana legal ― up four percentage points from last year and 52 points from 1969, when Gallup began taking the public pulse on the issue.
In another first for the poll, a majority of Republicans ― 51 percent ― back legalizing marijuana, an increase of nine percentage points from the 2016 survey. Majorities of Democrats and independents have supported legalization since 2008 and 2010, respectively.
The polling numbers are “extraordinarily important,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime legalization advocate who has introduced several measures seeking to curtail the federal government’s continued ban of the plant.
Describing the legalization movement as a case study of how people have taken this issue into their own hands, in defiance of the federal laws, he predicted that “this controversy will be over in less than five years.”
Even as marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, eight states and the District of Columbia have approved its recreational use (the district continues to ban sale of the drug, unlike these states.)
Twenty-nine states, the district, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have legalized marijuana growth and use for medical reasons, while 17 other states have laws allowing limited use of cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in pot that holds promise for therapeutic use.
These movements pressed forward under Obama administration guidance that urged federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting them. That policy could be reversed or altered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, in ways that could doom thriving industries in many states.
President Donald Trump, while campaigning for the White House, said he would respect states’ rights on the issue, but Sessions’ track record of opposing marijuana reform is deeply troubling to people who favor progressive drug laws.
Earlier this year, Sessions named a task force to review that Obama-era hands-off approach to state marijuana laws. The Associated Press reported that the task force largely reiterated the Justice Department’s policy and has not pushed for a crackdown.
In May, Sessions urged Congress to not renew the federal law that blocks the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with states that have legalized medical marijuana. Lawmakers rejected that advice.
The new poll “highlights the disconnect” between prohibitionists like Sessions and public support for more progressive marijuana laws, Blumenauer said. He also said the new poll numbers should spur Congress to “step up and take some critical steps” to address the gap between federal and state law on the issue.
Blumenauer added that he intends to share the survey figures with his congressional colleagues.
“I’m confident we’re going to make some progress,” he said.
Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, said it would be “politically disastrous” for Sessions to break Trump’s pledge to respect state laws on marijuana use.
“These new [poll] numbers, and the continuing trend they confirm, show that legal marijuana continues to be way more popular than almost any politician ― increasingly so,” Angell said. “That bodes well for efforts to pass cannabis laws in more states in 2018, both on the ballot and through state legislatures.”
Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the polling― coupled with a majority of states allowing marijuana use in some form ― shows that “it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or moral perspective to maintain federal prohibition of marijuana.”
“It is high time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and to end the needless criminalization of marijuana ― a policy failure that encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts communities of color,” Strekal said.
The Gallup poll, conducted Oct. 5-11, has an error margin of plus-or-minus four percentage points for the overall sample group of 1,028 adults.