Is marijuana the new gay marriage? U.S. attitudes changing fast
A customer rolls a joint made of half marijuana and half tobacco to smoke inside of Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington in this 2012 file photo. Fifty-two per cent of Americans support legalizing the use of marijuana, the first time polls have shown most Americans back legalization, a Pew Research Center poll shows. (REUTERS/Nick Adams)
Historians are going to have a field day unpacking this new America bubbling up from the cracks of the Great Recession.
Set aside for a moment the rapid transformation in U.S. attitudes about gay marriage and gaze at this new survey showing a majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.
The numbers -- 52 per cent favouring legalization versus 45 opposed -- are unprecedented, the Pew Research Center reports. It's the first majority in more than four decades of polling on what was once the wedgiest of wedge issues.
The survey represents an 11 point shift since 2010. A shift, Pew notes, that is happening across multiple generations, with Millenials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers all showing "a striking change in long-term attitudes" on pot.
The Pew data shows a collapse in the "gateway" argument, with just 38 per cent of the 1,501 adults surveyed agreeing "for most people the use of marijuana leads to the use of hard drugs." It further shows that views on the morality of marijuana have reversed, with 50 per cent saying it is not a moral issue versus 32 per cent who say smoking marijuana is morally wrong.
Political partisanship still informs U.S. views on marijuana -- but here too, views are changing. While most Republicans still opposing legalization (the majority of Democrats and independents are in favour), they all agree the feds should let individual states make their own rules.
Specifically, 57 per cent of Republicans and 59 per cent of Democrats say that the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that permit its use. Even stronger majorities -- 67 per cent of Republicans and 71 per cent of Democrats -- say "federal enforcement of marijuana laws is not worth the cost," according to Pew.
Those numbers will be of particular interest to the states of Colorado and Washington, where lawmakers and bureaucrats are looking to guidance from the Obama administration as they create the rulebook for the launch of legal pot sales starting in 2014.
Mitch Potter is the Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites