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National support for marijuana legalization is holding steady, according to multiple polls released in mid-April.

american_flag_marijuanaThe Pew Research Center published a survey April 14 that found 53 percent of Americans favor recreational legalization. Pew got roughly the same result, 54 percent, in a poll released this time last year.

The results suggest support is only likely to continue growing in coming years: Young voters still support the idea by the widest margins, and they’re the group that will decide the next several decades’ worth of public policy in America.

The poll found 68 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 want to see reform enacted across the country. That puts them 16 percentage points ahead of Gen Xers aged 35 to 50, the next most supportive demographic group. Another poll released earlier this year concluded that support extends to both young Democrats and young Republicans.

Not surprisingly, left-leaning voters and libertarians want legalization more than conservatives. Seventy-five percent of young, self-identified liberal Democrats said they back legalization while 48 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans said the same. Support for the idea is much lower among self-identified conservative Republicans, more than 60% of whom oppose it.

Republican reform support highest since ’69

Overall, just 39 percent of Republicans favor marijuana reform, while 59 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents said they would vote for it. The GOP numbers, though somewhat discouraging, are the highest they’ve been since Pew started conducting its poll in 1969.

The survey also found that opposition to legalization is much softer than support for it, meaning opponents are more likely to switch sides over time than are supporters. While 21 percent of respondents said they have changed their minds in favor of reform, just 7 percent said they have switched to opposing it. Thirty percent said they have always wanted legal marijuana while 35 percent said they have always been against it.

“The more that people learn about marijuana and look at the benefits of legalization, the more likely they are to support reform,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “Our opponents sure do have a lot to say about what they see as the benefits of continuing prohibition, but voters don’t want to hear it.”

Striking fear into reform opponents

Marijuana JointProminent reform opponents, including perennial drug warrior Kevin Sabet, struggled to explain the increased support. Sabet said it was the result of a “multimillion-dollar effort” to trick people into accepting the drug. He denied the changing political environment was a bad sign for the drug war crowd. In fact, Sabet said, the new numbers will drive legalization foes to “redouble their efforts.”

“Yes, it is becoming a bit of a David-and-Goliath story here, but given the widespread opposition to legalization among the scientific, medical, and business world, no one should count anti-legalization groups out,” he said.

Yet many observers are doing just that, predicting widespread reform of cannabis laws within the next few years. California, Maine, Rhode Island, Nevada, Vermont, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts could all potentially vote on legalization by 2017.

Two other polls, also released April 14, found similar results. The surveys were conducted by Quinnipiac University. They concluded young voters and most others strongly favor legalization of recreational cannabis.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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