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Changing Perceptions: Marijuana Legalization Support Over Time

Public support for legalizing marijuana has ebbed and flowed over the past four decades, finally gaining more momentum under Obama's Presidency


Cannabis, weed, pot, marijuana, grass…

The plant has many names and a unique history. First recorded use of the plant dates back to 2900 BC, when Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi referred to the plant as a popular medicine that possessed both yin and yang.

Documented use of the plant as both a medicine and intoxicant appear throughout history. From the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks, to Shakespeare and the early American colonies, people throughout history celebrated the diverse benefits of the plant. 

So... what happened? Cannabis was first outlawed in Massachusetts in 1911 at the start of the prohibition era. While alcohol prohibition would only last only until 1933, cannabis prohibition persisted and propaganda ensued:

 1936 - Reefer Madness Film Cautions Against Marijuana1930's Marijuana Propaganda Poster

1930s Propaganda: Reefer Madness Film Cautions Against Marijuana

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a drug with "No Accepted Medical Use." Many believe the Nixon Administration pushed for marijuana as a Schedule I drug in order to incarcerate and alienate the Americans who opposed Nixon the most -- African Americans and war protesters. Unfortunately, this strategy worked way longer than Nixon even intended - in 2010, over half of all drug arrests were for marijuana, and according to the ACLU blacks were 3.7x more likely to get arrested when caught in possession of marijuana :( 

Fortunately, since 2001 there has been a wave of decriminalization of cannabis at the state level. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first 2 states to legalize cannabis recreationally (for "adult use"), followed by Alaska, Oregon and D.C. in 2014, and then California, Nevada, Massachetts and Maine in 2016. In a 2017 Gallup Poll, for the first time over 51% of Republicans support legalization (vs. 72% of Democrats). 

Gallup Poll Support for Legalization

Why Should Marijuana Be Legal? Voices of Supporters

What is the main reason you support legalizing use of marijuana? 

“It is not as harmful as alcohol... It also helps medical conditions as a more natural substitute to pharmaceuticals.” Female, 46

“My grandson was diagnosed with epilepsy a year ago and it has been proven that it helps with the seizures.” Female, 69

“Because people should be allowed to have control over their body and not have the government intervene in that.” Male, 18

“I think that we would have more control over it by allowing a federal agency to tax and regulate it like alcohol.” Male, 25