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7 Facts About Americans and Marijuana

The Pew Research Center (PRC) is a non-partisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C. It provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world. Here are seven facts about Americans’ views of and experiences with marijuana, based on PRC surveys and other sources.

marijuana plant

ONE: Around nine-in-ten Americans say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use, according to an October 2022 Pew Research Center survey. One-in-ten say the drug should not be legal in any form.

TWO: Public support for marijuana legalization differs widely by age. Just three-in-ten adults 75 and older say marijuana should be legal for recreational and medical use, compared with 53 percent of adults 65 to 74, the next youngest age category. By contrast, 72 percent of adults under 30 support legalization for medical and recreational use.

THREE: Supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization have cited different reasons for their views, according to a Gallup survey conducted in 2019. Americans who favored legalization were most likely to cite two reasons as very important: marijuana’s perceived medical benefits (86%) and the idea that legalizing the drug would free up law enforcement to focus on other types of crime (70%).

Among Americans who opposed marijuana legalization, 79 percent said a very important reason was that it would increase the number of car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana. Around seven-in-ten (69%) said a very important reason was that legalization would lead to more people using stronger and more addictive drugs.

FOUR: Support for marijuana legalization has increased dramatically over the last two decades. In addition to asking specifically about the medical and recreational use of the drug, the Center previously asked Americans about legalizing marijuana use in general. In 2019, the last time the Center asked that question, two-thirds of adults expressed support for marijuana legalization, more than double the share who said they favored legalization in a 2000 Gallup survey.

FIVE: Fewer than half of U.S. adults (46%) say they have ever used marijuana, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That is lower than the shares who say they have ever consumed alcohol (78%) or ever used tobacco products (57%).

SIX: Most Americans support easing penalties for people with marijuana convictions, an October 2021 Center survey found. Two-thirds of adults say they favor releasing people from prison who are being held for marijuana-related offenses only, including 41 percent who strongly favor this. And around six-in-ten adults support removing or expunging marijuana-related offenses from people’s criminal records.

SEVEN: Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use as of April 2023, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an advocacy group that tracks state-level legislation on the issue. Some 48 percent of Americans now live in a jurisdiction where recreational marijuana is legal, according to a Center analysis of 2022 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Separately, more than three dozen states - as well as D.C. - have approved some form of medical marijuana program.

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