Now that two states have legalized marijuana use for adults and 20 states have protections for medical use of cannabis, it is clear that American attitudes toward marijuana have changed drastically. Here are five opinions that a majority of Americans hold toward pot, according to the latest opinion polls:
1) Marijuana use by adults age 21 and older should be legal.
The Gallup organization made worldwide headlines last month when it proclaimed "For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana." According to their latest poll, 58 percent of Americans supported legalization when asked "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?" Indeed, this was the first time a majority supported legal marijuana in Gallup's history of asking the question, dating back to 1969 when support was a dismal 12 percent.
However, Gallup's was not the first poll showing majority support for legalization. Rather than being a first or an outlier, Gallup merely confirmed what has been found in 11 polls since 2009. Pollsters from Angus Reid Global Monitor (four polls ranging from 52 percent to 55 percent), Gallup (50 percent and 58 percent), Pew Center (52 percent), Public Policy Polling (58 percent), Rasmussen (56 percent), Zogby (52 percent), and Quinnipiac University (51 percent) have all discovered majority support for legalization.
Since Colorado and Washington passed marijuana legalization in 2012, only four polls have shown less than 50 percent support for legalization. Interestingly, three come from news organizations (ABC News = 48%, CBS News = 47%, FOX News = 46%) and the other is Gallup's 2012 poll of 48 percent that has been trumped by the 2013 poll at 58 percent.
2) When a state legalizes marijuana, the federal government should let them.
After two states legalized recreational marijuana use, pollsters asked what the federal response should be. A December HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 51 percent felt the feds should leave pot smokers alone in legal states. Gallup found that 64 percent opposed the federal government taking steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in the newly-legalized states.
3) Marijuana smokers should not be fired for off-work pot use if it is legal in their state.
This week, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll found that almost two-thirds of poll respondents -- 64 percent -- found it unacceptable to fire a marijuana user solely for after-hours pot smoking. Those who found it acceptable numbered only 22 percent, with 14 percent in the "not sure" category. Thus, for every person who thinks it is okay to fire a pot smoker, there are nearly three who find it unacceptable.
Even when the qualifier of "in a legal marijuana state" is removed from the question of whether it is acceptable to fire people for off-the-clock pot use, more people found it unacceptable than acceptable. A plurality of 45 percent said the cannabis consumers should be able to keep their jobs, even if marijuana use is illegal, compared to the 32 percent who think it is okay to fire a pot smoker in a prohibition state, and 23 percent were "not sure."
4) Marijuana is definitely safer than alcohol.
As early as 2002, Zogby found that 47 percent of those surveyed believed alcohol was the most dangerous drug, followed by tobacco at 28 percent and marijuana at 20 percent. In 2009, Rasmussen reported that 51 percent of its poll respondents agreed that marijuana was a safer substance to consume than alcohol. In 2012, Public Policy Polling found that 45 percent of respondents felt marijuana is safer than alcohol, compared to 42 percent who disagreed and 12 percent who weren't sure.
5) Marijuana is medicine and patients should not be punished for choosing it.
Support for medical use of marijuana is so widespread and overwhelming it is difficult to imagine another political issue that has so much public support and so little political support. The polling page at MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org lists twenty-eight polls dating back to 1995 with support ranging from 60 percent to 85 percent, except for one poll of the American Society for Addiction Medicine (aka: Big Rehab) that found opinions split at 36 percent for, 26 percent neutral, and 38 percent opposed.