CNN poll on legalizing marijuana: We're all in the Choom Gang now

Well, not quite all. But most.

There’s nothing unusual about the topline numbers here, although the timeliness of the poll vis-a-vis Colorado’s experimentation with legalization will attract more attention than similar findings from Pew, Quinnipiac, and Gallup. The mind-boggling trendline isn’t news either: It’s on page 2 here if you want the hard numbers, but if you’ve seen one of these polls before, you already know how much things have changed since the early 90s. What makes CNN’s poll interesting is the extensive crosstabs. Most pollsters are usually content with a few basic questions about legalization but CNN went deeper. For instance:


That tells you a lot more about why attitudes are changing than most barebones polls on this topic do. Decades of effort from pro-legalization forces (and personal observation of illegal use) have convinced a majority that weed’s just not that harmful. And that’s not all:


There’s a double-digit difference in the number who see porn as immoral versus pot, to the point where marijuana use is now roughly as acceptable as living with someone without being married. Which, actually, should give you a sense of which demographic is driving most of the opposition. It is indeed grandma and grandpa:


That’s the age split on the basic question of whether using marijuana should or shouldn’t be illegal. The 65+ demographic is not only the sole group to say no, there’s roughly 20 points’ difference between them and the next closest age demographic. That pattern repeats on a slew of weed-related questions. The 50-64 group is usually fairly evenly divided but seniors give the drug thumbs down overwhelmingly. To take one example, when asked whether marijuana use in America is a “very serious” problem, a plurality of seniors (38 percent) say that it is. No other group drew more than 18 percent for that answer. Big, biiiig age gap here, which of course explains the trendlines over the last few decades. As older anti-legalization voters die, they’re replaced in the population by younger pro-legalization ones. David Brooks described “aging out” of pot use in his op-ed last week, but ironically, the country at large is aging out of its opposition to prohibition.

But why? It boils down, I think, to experimentation. Fifty-two percent overall told CNN that they’d tried marijuana in the past. Even among the 50-64 age group, 56 percent copped to having tried it. Among seniors, just 21 percent did. That’s not surprising but it is revealing. The taboo against weed was much stronger before the 1960s, when seniors came of age. They didn’t try it, they accepted that it was banned for a good reason, and those opinions stuck. For just that reason, I’d be curious to see an even deeper subsample showing the split on this issue between younger and older Republicans specifically. GOP voters remain opposed to weed on balance but I suspect that’s more a function of the party skewing older than some firm ideological principle that Republicans of every age adhere to. In fact, when asked whether smoking weed is morally wrong, Republicans now split at a razor-thin 50/49. Given that seniors tilt heavily towards the “immoral” view, it can only mean that younger Republicans disagree.

By the way, lest you think that views of marijuana are part and parcel of lax social views generally, here are two more interesting data points among different age groups from CNN. The first table reflects people’s views on whether having an abortion is moral, the second reflects their views on the morality of homosexuality:



Seniors aren’t always all by their lonesome on “values” issues. It’s young adults who are the outlier in accepting homosexuality as moral on balance. And there’s no significant disparity on abortion at all: You might expect seniors to be adamantly opposed and millennials to be much more permissive, but everyone’s within 10 points of each other. A majority of every age group thinks abortion is immoral, which of course is why even Democratic leaders take care to say that the practice should be “safe, legal — and rare.” They may not believe that last part but most Americans do.