Is the pro-pot movement's quest for marijuana legalization at a tipping point?

Posted August 11

Four in 10 Americans now hold mixed views on illegal substances, believing hard drugs should stay illegal, but recreational drugs, like marijuana, should be allowed, according to a newly released Barna Group study.

Despite changes in public perception, an additional 32 percent still believe all drugs should be illegal, but it doesn't end there. Beyond those paradigms, 13 percent believe all drugs should be legal but regulated, with only 3 percent saying that all drugs should be legal with no regulation.

Interestingly, more than 1 in 10 people (12 percent) said they don't have an opinion on the contentious issue.

Perhaps not too shocking was the finding that 43 percent of practicing Christians believe all drugs should be illegal, especially considering the moral implications that some see resulting from substance use.

While practicing Christians expressed stronger views on the issue than the public, evangelicals, in particular, stand out, with 66 percent believing all drugs should remain illegal. Juxtapose that against the 17 percent of those with no faith who said the same, and there are clearly some ideological differences at play.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 16 percent of evangelicals would legalize recreational drugs compared with 49 percent of those with no faith.

A similar dynamic was observed when it comes to political persuasion with 51 percent of conservatives believing every drug should be illegal, compared with just 17 percent of individuals who are liberal.

"Evangelicals and conservatives ... remain most opposed to legalizing any kind of drug," Roxanne Stone, editor-in-chief of Barna, said in a statement. "This is certainly true to a religious history of abstinence from intoxicating substances."

She continued, "Additionally, much of the ‘war on drugs’ was framed in the context of family values — an ideology that drove much of the conservative right for the past 40 years."

In recent years, Americans have become much more accepting of marijuana. While only 12 percent favored legalizing the drug in 1969, that proportion was at 58 percent in 2015, according to Gallup.

It wasn't until the year 2000 that the percentage of the public who favored marijuana legalization hit 31 percent, with support only growing over the following years. By 2009, that proportion hit 44 percent and then 50 percent just two years later, showcasing just how stark the trajectory has been.

Changing attitudes are clearly carrying over to public policy. Consider that 12 of the 21 states that allow medicinal marijuana have passed laws permitting it since 2010.

But it's the debate over recreational marijuana, in particular, that is sure to escalate after states like Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon successfully took steps to legalize it since 2012.

Those moves, teamed with changing public opinion, are having an impact on other states as well, with The Hill reporting this week that legalization proponents believe the country is at a "tipping point," with nine states planning to have marijuana on their ballots in some form this upcoming November.

Recreational use will be on the ballots in California, Maine, Arizona, Nevada and Massachusetts, with Florida, Missouri, Montana and Arkansas deciding on medicinal marijuana.

According to The Hill, "the ballot measures mean more voters will be weighing in on marijuana issues than in any other year in American history."

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