Marijuana poll: Majority of Americans support legalization, oppose federal interference

It's been nearly a month since Attorney General Eric Holder said a decision about a federal response to Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to use and possess small amounts of marijuana, would be coming soon. And the longer he waits, the harder it may be to sell a full-bore crackdown to people across the U.S.

The latest evidence: a Pew Research Center poll showing a majority of Americans favor legalization. Details, graphics and the complete report below.

The survey, conducted March 13-17, with 1,501 adults taking part, found that 52 percent of respondents think marijuana should be legal, while 45 percent disagreed.

An overview of the study points out that the pro-legalization percentage is eleven points higher than in a survey taken just three years ago, in 2010, and shockingly higher than a Gallup poll from 1969, during the height of the hippie era. Back then, 84 percent were opposed to legalization, with just 12 percent daring to suggest that pot smoking should be allowed.

Here's a graphic that depicts changing opinions over the last 44 years:

Another graphic represents legalization support by generation, with pop-culture-friendly designations standing for each group. Millennials -- those born since 1980 -- were the most pro-legalization, with 65 percent advocating for it. This digit contrasts strongly with views of the Silent Generation, whose members were born between 1928 and 1945; just 32 percent of those in this category backed legalizing pot. But this number is still double what it was in the late Sixties -- and 50 percent of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and 54 percent of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) think legalization is the way to go.

Note that Boomers now feel about marijuana legalization much as they did when they were in the age range that Millennials are now.

Here's a graphic illustrating the results:

Another shift: 50 percent of those who took part in the survey now say marijuana use is not a moral issue, up a striking 15 percent since 2006.

This graphic documents the change:

Another key finding: Marijuana use in states that have legalized it to greater or lesser degrees is no higher than it is in those where it's still entirely illicit.

Continue for more about the marijuana poll, including two survey documents. From the report: "There is no significant difference in lifetime or recent use between people in states with some form of legalized marijuana and those in other states."

Another item that may be of interest to Attorney General Holder: Most people who spoke to Pew researchers don't believe that the cost of enforcing marijuana laws is justifiable. Here's that data:

These figures and other are encouraging to Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, and a close follower of developments in Colorado. He believes public opinion will force officials who once favored inflexible prohibition to moderate their views. "It's time for politicians to catch up to the voters on this issue," he maintains via e-mail. "Not too long ago, it was widely accepted in political circles that elected officials who wanted to get re-elected needed to act 'tough' on drugs and go out of their way to support the continued criminalization of marijuana. The opposite is quickly becoming true.

"A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and you're going to start seeing more politicians running toward our movement instead of away from it, just as we've seen happen with marriage equality recently."

About data showing that marijuana use rates are virtually the same in all states, regardless of their marijuana policies, Angell feels it "undercuts a major line of argument from the drug warriors, who like to go around claiming that marijuana reform means we'll have a society where everyone is stoned all the time. The Pew findings are more proof that, just as we've known all along, marijuana prohibition is incredibly ineffective at preventing people from using marijuana."

Look below to read the report, and dig deeper into the figures in the document referred to as the "Final Timeline."

Pew Research Center Marijuana Report

Pew Reserch Center Marijuana Topline

More from our Marijuana archive from March 6: "Marijuana: Eric Holder says fed response to Colorado law coming soon."

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