PRINCETON, NJ — 60-four per cent of Americans are against the federal government’s taking steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal. Americans who personally believe that marijuana should be legal overwhelmingly say the federal government should not get involved at the state level, along with four in 10 of those who are opposed to legalized marijuana.
The issue of what the federal government should do in these situations is particularly relevant, given recently passed initiatives in Washington and Colorado that legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. These state-level laws are at odds with the federal Controlled Substances Act that makes marijuana use illegal. Although all of the precise specifications of the new law in Washington have not yet been determined, the fact that a number of pot smokers gathered near the Space Needle in Seattle last week to publicly celebrate their state’s new law underscored this potential conflict between what could be legal under new state laws while remaining illegal at the federal level.
The results from the Nov. 26-29 USA Today/Gallup poll indicate that the average American sides with the states in these instances of conflict.
At the same time, Americans remain quite divided in their overall support for legalization of marijuana use, with 48% in the poll saying it should be legal, and 50% saying it should not be. Americans’ views are roughly the same as they were last October, but as recently as 2005, only about a third of Americans supported marijuana legalization. In 1969, when Gallup first asked about the issue, 12% supported legalizing pot.
Gallup’s trend question wording does not specify whether the legalization in question is at the federal or the state level. It is possible that Americans have differing views on the issue of making marijuana legal in certain states as opposed to a blanket law at the federal level that covers the entire country.
Six in 10 Americans aged 18 to 29 support legalizing marijuana, while about as many of those 65 and older are opposed. The bulk of middle-aged Americans — those aged 30 to 64 — are split on the issue.
The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington has highlighted the challenges the federal Justice Department faces in its decision-making on how to handle state laws on marijuana use that conflict with national laws. The significant majority of Americans would advise the federal government to focus on other issues, even though public pot smoking in states where it is legal flouts national laws currently on the books.
By contrast, there is no clear-cut direction from the American public on the underlying issue of legalizing use of marijuana. Although support for legalization has risen substantially over the past 43 years, the public remains divided, with Democrats and young people most in favour, while Republicans and older Americans are most likely to be opposed.