58% of Americans Support Legal Pot in New Poll: Does Colorado Deserve Credit?

A new Gallup poll found that 58 percent of respondents supported legalizing marijuana.

That matches the highest number ever in a Gallup survey; 58 percent also backed the concept in 2013.

Why have so many Americans concluded that legalizing cannabis is the way to go? One marijuana activist thinks the success of the program in Colorado is a big reason.

"It's no surprise that support continues to rise, since people have had a chance to actually see marijuana legalization in action in Colorado for almost two years," notes the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell in an e-mail to Westword. "It's no longer just a theoretical debate, and we've got real evidence. We're now able to point to what is happening in Denver and prove that what we said would happen is true and that our opponents' fears were unfounded."

Plenty of presidential hopefuls in both major political parties still get mediocre or lousy grades on marijuana policies from progressive organizations.

But others appear to be changing their tune, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In the past, he's shied away from backing legalization. But during a recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas, he said that if he were a citizen of Nevada, he'd likely vote in favor of a legalization measure on the ballot there.

The demographics of the Gallup poll show why this position now qualifies as smart politics.

First, here's a Gallup graphic showing how support for marijuana legalization has steadily risen from 1969 to the present, with the biggest gains taking place in recent years.

Now, check out a breakdown of responses by age:

As you can see, majorities of those polled in every demographic support marijuana legalization with one exception — those who are age 65 or older.

Even in that group, however, support has doubled over the past fifteen years or so.

The impact of age on marijuana opinions can be seen even more clearly in a graphic concentrating on what Gallup refers to as "birth cohorts" — a range of years during which respondents were born.

Here's that graphic:

According to Gallup's data, the only group whose support of marijuana legalization hasn't grown appreciably since 2000 features those who were born in 1935 or before — meaning people who are age eighty or older.

Even the numbers of those between 65 and eighty took a big bump since 2000, rising from 29 percent in favor of legalization to 40 percent.

The Marijuana Majority's Angell expects this trend to continue.

"As more states implement marijuana reforms and those laws continue to work as advertised, we’re likely to see even more public support, which should soon spur Congress to formally end the criminalization of cannabis under federal law," he predicts.

To see the complete Gallup poll, click here.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts