America wants to legalize cannabis. That’s the gist of a poll conducted by General Social Survey, touted as the nation’s most reliable public-opinion survey group, which recently found that 52 percent of this country’s population feels that cannabis should be legalized. The poll asked 1,687 Americans whether they “think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not.” The response showed a 9 percentage-point increase in support since the same question was asked in 2012 — up from a minority opinion to a majority. In the previous survey, 42 percent were opposed to legalizing marijuana while 7 percent were undecided.
The results represent a major shift in cannabis tolerance by the American public since 1974, when the poll was first conducted. At the time, only 19 percent supported full legalization. That number grew to 30 percent by 1978 but dipped to its lowest, 16 percent, in 1990. From there, support grew steadily, reaching 32 percent in 2006. And over the next nine years, support increased by 20 percentage points — showing just how quickly public sentiment is evolving — and mirroring the shift in public policy in many states that now allow for medical cannabis.
The poll also supports other research by the Pew Research Center and Gallup, whose polling in recent years demonstrates major support nationwide for legalizing marijuana. A 2013 Gallup poll showed 58 percent of Americans supporting legalization, while a 2013 Pew poll showed 52 percent support.
The timing of the General Social Survey poll, released last week, is significant: A bipartisan group of senators has just filed a marijuana bill that would protect medical marijuana patients, doctors and businesses from federal prosecution nationwide.
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The bill would also reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin and LSD, to a Schedule II drug — meaning the feds would finally acknowledge that cannabis has medicinal benefits. Some cannabis activists say rescheduling could spell the end for the current medical cannabis program in Colorado and other states, as the change would require more federal oversight of the industry. But others point out that medical cannabis has flourished with cannabis under the stricter Schedule I placement; they say the bill gives states more leeway to run their own programs.
The bill would not affect states that have passed recreational cannabis laws; however, a House bill proposed by Representative Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act scheduling and legalize the sales of cannabis by putting oversight through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical marijuana patients and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration — or this one — could reverse course and turn them into criminals," Polis said in an announcement released by his office last week. "It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don't want, to have legal marijuana within their borders."