Going forward, there is a great deal at stake for marijuana legalization supporters. Attitudes, however, are continuing to shift in their favor. As has been reported previously — for several ongoing years now — the sentiment around marijuana is changing very quickly among Americans. Whereas only a decade or so ago legalization was but a pipe dream, we have a handful of states in which adults can literally walk into a storefront and purchase cannabis.
Now that the post-election dust has settled, four additional states have legal pot (assuming they get to keep it). As far as we can tell, voters acted on their shifting attitudes.
There are still large numbers of people staunchly opposed to the concept of legalization. Although states, such as Washington and Colorado, have benefited greatly from ending cannabis prohibition — just take a look at the tax revenues and the number of jobs that have been created in the past few years — a lot of people are still expressing concern. But even the doubters’ ranks have been eroding as of late. Groups that were traditionally against legalization — Republicans, mostly — are coming around.
According to a new public poll from Pew Research, public support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high. But there is one group of people who are still holding out.
The holdouts: Silent Generation conservatives
From that Pew Research brief, we can see via the chart that the overall split regarding attitudes toward legalization is sitting around 57% for and 37% against. But when you dig into the data a bit and break it down by demographic, there are only two sets that still have majorities who say the use of cannabis should be illegal.
In terms of generation or age, it’s the Silent Generation. Roughly 59% of these people born between the years of 1925 and 1945 have evidently not found arguments in favor of legalization to be persuasive.
The second group is conservative Republicans, which disapprove of legalization by 62% to 33%. What’s interesting here is other subsets of Republicans, by Pew’s measurements, show support for legalization by a 2:1 margin. It’s the conservative wing that is tilting the overall Republican category.
Altogether, we can see that older, Silent Generation conservatives are the only remaining group that is against legalization.
“Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it,” Pew’s brief says.
That schism among Republicans really seems to be the game-changer at this point, as Democrats are more or less on the same page with each other. “The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%),” Pew says.
Next: How bright is the future for marijuana?
Mounting support for marijuana
With conservative Republicans still holding fast against the changing tide, just about everyone else is changing their minds regarding legalization. There are likely many reasons for that, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that every doomsday scenario floated by those against legalization, prior to Colorado and Washington ending prohibition, failed to materialize.
Here’s Pew’s most recent chart with overall opinions, dating back to 1969.
This also includes generational differences, as seen above. Clearly, millennials are leading the charge, followed by Generation X and the baby boomers. Yet, the Silent Generation still lags way behind.
With several states keen on pushing legal pot in the future, this poll might give us an indication as to which way voters are going to swing. Of course, it’s really impossible to know for sure (just look at the Brexit vote for an example — or President Donald Trump’s election). But when it comes to marijuana most people are on board.
Will it be enough?
By this point, it should be clear: The majority of Americans are in the pro-legalization camp. It’s understandable as to why older conservatives are still holding out, and it’s reasonable to think their opinions on the matter will never change. Opposition to marijuana legalization, among certain demographics, might simply die out along with them.
The question is whether this rapid change in attitude toward marijuana will be enough to manifest real change. Sure, many state legislators and policymakers around the country are seeing the benefits of legalization. They’re seeing the money legal states are bringing in. They can also see there hasn’t been a world-shattering change in any of those states. Crime hasn’t skyrocketed, and people aren’t being killed as a result of increased access to pot.
But what’s really important is change at the federal level. States can legalize all they want. The fact remains that cannabis is still a Schedule I substance, something that can only be changed at the federal level. Although it’s typically conservatives who are against legalization, many are coming around, as noted. Some see the benefits of legalizing hemp production. Others want to expand personal freedoms.
Is there enough support among our now fully Republican-controlled federal government to make a significant change when it comes to marijuana laws? Let’s be blunt: It doesn’t look good for the future of marijuana right now.
The Trump administration was silent on the topic for a while, but we’re now starting to get a glimpse as to how it plans to deal with marijuana. Under former President Barack Obama, the states could do as they pleased, for the most part. Federal agencies were ordered to engage in a “live and let live” sort of policy. But under Trump, it appears that a federal crackdown might be coming.
During a February press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, on the topic of federal marijuana laws, that we’ll “see greater enforcement of it.” That, of course, is open to interpretation. But there are other troubling signs. The nomination and confirmation of Jeff Sessions to the position of attorney general, for example, has made marijuana supporters uneasy. Sessions is notoriously anti-pot, even going so far as to say he “‘used to think they [the KKK] were OK’ until he found out some were ‘pot smokers.'”
So, yes. Sessions thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he found out members liked marijuana. That’s telling.
Things are still up in the air, but a Trump clampdown on legal marijuana could come fast. We need to look only at the botched “travel ban” as an example. The administration gave little or no warning it was coming — not even to the agencies tasked with enforcing it. That led to chaos in airports across the country.
Could we see a similar fast-tracking when it comes to drug enforcement? It wouldn’t be surprising. But it would be costly and likely rile up a lot of people. After all, the majority of Americans are now in the pro-legalization camp.