Pew poll: 39% of GOPers support legalizing pot, 54% say feds should respect state law where pot is legal

It’s an open question right now which position will reach majority support within the Republican Party first, support for legalizing gay marriage or support for legalizing weed. Right now it’s a toss-up, with several polls showing the GOP at around 40 percent on the first issue and Pew showing 39 percent on the second.

I’d bet on marijuana in this case, actually. Between the inevitable Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage this summer and continued leftist jackassery in hassling Christian businesses that object to catering gay weddings, the popularity of SSM within the GOP will probably grow more slowly over the next few years than it has over the past ten.

Nearly six-in-ten Democrats (59%) favor legalizing the use of marijuana, as do 58% of independents. That compares with just 39% of Republicans…

The new survey also finds that as some states have legalized marijuana – placing them at odds with the federal prohibition against marijuana – a majority of Americans (59%) say that the federal government should not enforce laws in states that allow marijuana use; 37% say that they should enforce these laws. Views on federal enforcement of marijuana laws are unchanged since the question was first asked two years ago.

In contrast to overall attitudes about the legal use of marijuana, there are only modest differences in views across partisan groups: 64% of independents, 58% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans say that the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow its use.

That last part is good news for the Republican field, which needs a way to please both sides on the legalization question. The left will go all out next year to place referendums on weed on the ballot in various states, especially swing states, knowing that that’ll boost turnout among their base of young adults. Hillary’s charisma won’t get them motivated to go to the polls but legalization might. The GOP nominee will need a way to defuse that issue, at least partially. Federalism on drug laws is the obvious solution and, per Pew, it’s tolerable to a majority of the party’s own supporters. I’d be surprised if there’s a single candidate in the primaries (well, maybe apart from Huck and Santorum) that wants federal drug law enforced even in states where weed is legal.

Take a minute or two to scroll through Pew’s graphs on how opinion on this subject has changed, especially recently. The country had a small surge towards legalization in the late 70s that was tamped down by the “just say no” Reagan Revolution and then glided a bit higher towards a new plateau during the Clinton era. Starting around 2000, though, things really take off.


In 2000, support for legalizing weed among Democrats stood at 29 percent. Fifteen years later, it’s more than doubled to 59 percent. In fact, it’s even more dramatic than that insofar as most of the growth has come after Obama took office — and not just among Democrats. In 2008, just 39 percent of Dems and 23 percent of Republicans backed legalization. Seven years later, Democratic support has jumped 20 points and GOP support has jumped 16. I think that has less to do with an “Obama effect” than with fencesitters watching states experiment with legalization and feeling reassured that it hasn’t unleashed a parade of horribles, but the increase is amazing either way.

No mystery which subgroup is driving it either:


As recently as 2006, Millennials were no more likely than other young-ish demographics to back legalization. They supported it to the tune of 34 percent, the same as Generation Xers and the same as Baby Boomers. Nine years later, their support has fully doubled to 68 percent, more than 16 points higher than the next closest age group. In fact, look closely and you’ll see support among Gen X and the Boomers tailing off slightly just within the last few years. Not among Millennials, though; they’re still rising, albeit at a slower rate. I don’t know what explains that remarkable surge since 2006. Maybe there’s an indirect “Obama effect” in that young adults began to lean left on all sorts of issues and their general political orientation has carried over to marijuana policy. Still, though — 68 percent? Wow.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s one more curious footnote from the poll. There’s virtually no gap between blacks and whites here — 58 percent of the former support legal weed versus 55 percent of the latter — but there’s a major gap between those two groups and Latinos, only 40 percent of whom back legalization (versus 58 percent who oppose it). Latinos are also far less likely to say they’ve tried weed (36 percent) than blacks (50 percent) or whites (52 percent). I don’t think that result can be chalked up to a bad sample either: Other polls have shown Latinos as being cooler to drug legalization. Go figure that on one issue where Latinos might prefer the GOP position, the GOP can’t pander too hard to them for fear of alienating other key voters.