A majority of Americans now support legalizing marijuana use — the first time public support has crossed the 50 percent threshold, according to new polling from the Pew Research Center.
Pew found that 52 percent of Americans say marijuana use should be legal, compared to just 45 percent who say it should be illegal. The level of support has jumped 11 percentage points in the past three years.
Support is even higher among younger American adults, with nearly two-thirds of Millennials — those born since 1980 — supporting legalization.
The findings cheered marijuana advocates, who said politicians need to follow voters’ lead.
“Not too long ago, it was widely accepted in political circles that elected officials who wanted to get re-elected needed to act ‘tough’ on drugs and go out of their way to support the continued criminalization of marijuana. The opposite is quickly becoming true,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
The biggest change in recent years is a shift away from people viewing marijuana use as a moral issue. Just seven years ago, 50 percent said smoking pot was morally wrong. Now, only 32 percent say that, while a full 50 percent say pot use isn’t a moral issue one way or the other.
One out of 10 Americans said they used marijuana within the past year — a figure that shot to 27 percent for those younger than 30.
Marijuana use has shot to the forefront as a political issue since Colorado and Washington voters approved referendums last year legalizing the personal recreational use of small amounts of the drug. A number of other states and the District of Columbia have approved use for medicinal purposes.
The federal government, however, still considers marijuana to be among the most dangerous controlled substances.
That has left President Obama’s administration grappling with how to respond to Colorado and Washington.
Last month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was still working on a new policy that he would release “relatively soon.”
Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, urged Mr. Holder to curtail federal efforts, saying that at a time of tight spending and the budget “sequesters,” there were more important places for law enforcement dollars to be spent.
Indeed, the Pew poll results showed most Americans agree with Mr. Leahy — 3 of 5 respondents said the federal government should not enforce its laws in states where marijuana use is legal.