It’s October 2018, and a significant milestone in cannabis history has just been achieved. This week, Canada became the second country to fully legalize the drug, with Uruguay being the first. This swift change in policy follows a sharp increase in support of cannabis over the past few years, and many other countries are also beginning to relax their marijuana laws.
In spite of all the support cannabis has recently gained, there are still many people who are dead against full legalization. So how many people really support cannabis? And how has this changed over the years?
How Many People Support Cannabis?
The number of people who support marijuana has grown fairly steadily over the past two decades. Figures published in 2013 by the National Institute of Health showed that 19.8 million Americans had used cannabis in the past month, a number which had slowly but surely grown since 2002.
This data showed a stark contrast with the use of other illicit substances including cocaine, hallucinogens, and prescription drugs, which remained relatively stable throughout the survey period.
In the USA, cannabis is now legal for medicinal use in 31 states, and for recreational use in nine. A recent survey found that 62% of Americans think that weed should be legal, a percentage which has doubled since the year 2000 when just 31% of people supported cannabis. As of 2016, a massive 122 million Americans admitted to having used marijuana at some point during their lifetime.
That’s around a third of the population!
In Canada, the figures are similar, with 68% of people supporting the change in the law. These supporters backed their views saying that legalization would allow for tighter regulation of THC and CBD levels and more control over how the drug is sold.
These supporters also used the Netherlands and Portugal (two countries where cannabis use is already decriminalized) as examples of success stories. Statistics suggest that Dutch crime rates are no higher than those in neighboring countries, and in Portugal, drug-related harm and use by adolescents has fallen since their drastic change in policy.
Another argument frequently used in support of cannabis legalization involves the potential boost to the economy. One significant benefit of legal marijuana is that it can be taxed to increase revenue for the government. In addition to this, the savings that would be made by the criminal justice system could run into the millions.
In Uruguay, where cannabis has been legal for four years, support is surprisingly low in comparison. Three separate studies found that in 2014, over 60% of Uruguayans were actually against the new law, a figure which had fallen slightly to 54% by 2017. However, in 2015, 74.5% said that they supported the use of medical marijuana, indicating that the matter is still a source of confusion and debate.
In other countries, people’s views on cannabis appear to be equally divided. In the UK, 43% of people support the legalization of marijuana, while 41% are against it and 16% remain unsure. Despite this split in opinion, most Brits see cannabis as safer than alcohol or tobacco. Just 25% of the people surveyed believed that regular cannabis use was very harmful, compared with 32% for alcohol and 56% for tobacco.
In Australia, there is growing support for cannabis, with 35% of people pro-legalization in 2016 compared with just 25% in 2010. These figures are even higher when it comes to medical marijuana, with 87% of the Australians surveyed supporting its use.
Across Europe, many countries are also moving towards decriminalization, for medical marijuana at least. These changes are a sure sign that public opinion regarding cannabis is becoming more positive, and support for its legalization is growing.
Who Supports the Legalization of Cannabis?
The most significant factor in people’s views on cannabis appears to be age. In the US, 74% of people born between 1981 and 1997 think marijuana should be legalized, compared with 63% of people born between 1965 and 1980, 54% of people born between 1948 and 1964, and just 39% of people born between 1928 and 1945.
Support for cannabis is following a similar trend in the UK, with 34% of 18–24-year-olds believing it should be legalized compared with just 17% of those aged over 65.
Younger people seem to be more accepting of drug use in general, with 18–20-year-olds most likely to indulge. However, illicit substances are becoming increasingly popular with the older generation, too. In 2013, a staggering 7.9 million Americans aged 50–54 years admitting to using drugs compared with just 3.4 million back in 2002.
Politics also seems to play a major role in people’s views of cannabis. Democrats are most supportive of legalization, with 69% in the ‘pro’ camp compared with just 45% of Republicans. Support among the independents varies between 59% and 75% depending on the individual candidate and their political ideals.
The Support of Cannabis in Recent History
It is little wonder that the older generation is less supportive of cannabis when you take a closer look at its recent history.
Some of the more old-fashioned views surrounding the drug are likely to be a throwback to anti-cannabis propaganda from the early 20th century; for example, the 1936 movie Reefer Madness. In this infamous flick, a group of impressionable teens is led astray by dealers and quickly becomes addicted to marijuana. At the time, scenes of drug-crazed parties accompanied by jazz music would have been quite shocking, and this no doubt fuelled negative opinions for many people.
However, cannabis use was not always frowned upon, and until the early 20th century it was widely available in pharmacies. At this point, cannabis was primarily used as a medicine, although some did dabble in recreational use.
It seems that negative associations with cannabis first began around 1910 when the US saw a sharp increase in immigrants following the Mexican revolution. These immigrants brought marijuana with them, and its recreational use began to rise, along with a great deal of prejudice. Shortly after this, the “Marijuana Menace” was outlawed in many states, and full prohibition soon followed. The laws for alcohol were relaxed in 1933, but cannabis remained illegal.
Following this, changes in perspective first started to take place in the 1960s. This era was a time of great social turmoil due to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, but the Swinging Sixties also saw a surge in popularity for cannabis along with the birth of the hippies and their more liberal views.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, public opinion on marijuana was very much split and even extended to the presidents of the time. In 1972, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse published a report entitled Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, suggesting that cannabis use was not as harmful as previously thought and calling for a change in policy. Although President Nixon disavowed this move, it did lead to changes in the law, including the abolition of mandatory minimum sentences for possession.
In 1977, President Carter considered decriminalization, but the next president Reagan was famously against cannabis, pioneering the “Just Say No” campaign with his wife, Nancy. This move was followed by H. W. Bush’s 1989 “War on Drugs,” another sign that cannabis was far from acceptance at this time.
In 1996, the state of California became the first to allow cannabis for medicinal use. Since then a growing body of evidence about its potential therapeutic benefits has contributed to a real sway in public perception.
Celebrities who Support Cannabis
In recent years, many celebrities have also spoken out in support of cannabis. Some of these public figures have become synonymous with getting high, such as Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. However, the list of stars who endorse cannabis is getting longer all the time, and now includes more surprising celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon, and Morgan Freeman.
Many of these celebs have openly admitted to using marijuana and have stepped up to support its legalization. This kind of publicity is bound to influence the broader view of cannabis as well-respected household names join the ranks of the lesser-known, removing much of the stigma surrounding marijuana.
Final Thoughts: How Many People Support Cannabis?
Throughout history, cannabis has often found itself in the public eye with people arguing for and against its legalization for decades. Despite this long and challenging relationship, more and more people are now accepting that it may be better to decriminalize cannabis at least, allowing police to focus their resources on more serious crime. Support for medical marijuana is also at an all-time high as more evidence is continually emerging about the potential benefits of this natural remedy.
With cannabis now entirely legal in two countries and decriminalized in several more, it has reached a level of acceptance that cannabis supporters could have only dreamed about in the past. And with the majority of young people decidedly pro-legalization, this acceptance is likely to spread even further as time goes on.