With New York becoming the sixteenth state to fully legalize the use of cannabis, and two more states — Virginia and New Mexico — set to join them later this year, legalizing recreational marijuana use finds favor with a majority of Americans. Fifty-five percent say they would personally like the recreational use of marijuana to be legal in their state.
Most Americans would go even further. Nearly 6 in 10 think people who have been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses in states where marijuana is now legal should have those convictions removed. Just 37% think they should have those convictions stay on their criminal records.
Though most younger adults support it, legalizing recreational marijuana use still hasn’t found favor among many older Americans: those between 55 and 64 are evenly divided on this issue, while most seniors 65 and older oppose it. Legalizing recreational marijuana use is more popular in states where full legalization is already in place: 60% of Americans who reside in states where marijuana use is fully legal say they like it that way. Fifty-three percent of Americans in states where recreational marijuana use isn’t legal would like it to become so in their states as well.
Relatively few Americans subscribe to some of the major arguments for keeping marijuana classified as an illegal substance. Less than a quarter of Americans think legalizing marijuana increases violent crime, and nearly as many Americans think it decreases it as think it increases it. Concern that the legalization of marijuana makes people more likely to use other illegal drugs has a bit more traction — a third of Americans think it does — though this percentage is still a minority opinion. Most who do believe legalizing marijuana leads to these negative results oppose legalizing recreational use in their states.
On the other hand, nearly half of Americans think the legalization of marijuana use is good for the local economy, including 56% of those who live in states where recreational use is now legal. Few think it is harmful.
But even though most Americans favor legal marijuana use, support has dropped slightly over the past two years. When asked broadly whether they think the use of marijuana should be legal, the percentage who think it should be legal dropped from an all-time high of 65% recorded in 2019, to 62% in 2020, to 58% today. This shift is largely among Republicans, most of whom would not like to see recreational marijuana use legalized in their state, and think that nonviolent marijuana offenses should remain on a person’s criminal record in states where it becomes legal.
Though most want recreational use of marijuana to be legal, relatively few Americans say they personally use marijuana regularly. Just 6% say they do, while another 9% say they use marijuana on occasion. More than 8 in 10 Americans say they either hardly ever or never use marijuana, or that they’ve never tried it. Whether or not marijuana use is fully legalized seems to have little bearing on the percentage of Americans who regularly use it: 7% say they use marijuana regularly in states where its use is fully legal, compared to 5% who do so in the rest of the country.
And though many Americans think using marijuana openly is socially acceptable, most Americans do not. Forty-three percent think it is, though this rises to 70% among those who use marijuana at least on an occasional basis.
This poll was conducted by telephone March 9-14, 2021 among a random sample of 1,004 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard landline and cellphones.
The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.
Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers. The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.