5 Facts About Marijuana

Illinois this month became the latest U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana. The legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker permits recreational use of the drug for adults 21 and older and allows for the expungement of minor marijuana-related convictions. Illinois had previously legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Nationwide, public support for cannabis legalization has steadily grown in recent years. As support has risen, a growing number of states have legalized or decriminalized the drug. Here are five facts about Americans and marijuana:

U.S. public opinion on legalizing marijuana, 1969-2018

1A majority of Americans support marijuana legalization. About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, according to a fall 2018 survey. Public opinion on marijuana legalization was essentially the opposite nearly two decades ago: In 2000, a similar majority (63%) said the use of marijuana should be illegal.

2Views of marijuana legalization differ by generation and political party, though support has increased across demographic groups over time. Majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal, up sharply from earlier years. And while a smaller share of the Silent Generation (39%) currently favors legalization, support among these Americans has also increased.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support the legalization of marijuana (69% vs. 45%). Around two-thirds of independents (68%) also favor legalization. Support has increased among all three groups over the last decade.

3Supporters and opponents of marijuana legalization cite different reasons for their views. Americans who favor legalization are most likely to point to the drug’s perceived medical benefits or to say it would free up law enforcement to focus on other types of crime; 86% and 70%, respectively, say these are very important reasons for their support, according to a Gallup survey conducted in spring 2019.

Among Americans who oppose marijuana legalization, 79% say a very important reason is that it would increase the number of car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana. Around seven-in-ten (69%) say a very important reason is that legalization would lead to more people using stronger and more addictive drugs.

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4Nearly half (48%) of American adults say they have ever used marijuana, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That is lower than the share who say they have ever consumed alcohol (86%) or ever used tobacco products (68%).

While many Americans say they have ever used cannabis, far fewer are current users, according to the same 2017 survey: 15% of U.S. adults say they have used marijuana over the past year, while 10% say they have used the drug over the past month.

Where recreational marijuana is legal in the U.S.

5Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use, according to the National Conference of State LegislaturesCombined, these jurisdictions are home to 29% of adults in the country. (The Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, also legalized recreational marijuana in 2018.)

Nearly three dozen states (34), as well as D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have approved some form of a medical marijuana program. Numerous states have also enacted laws reducing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related convictions or allowing past convictions to be expunged.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published in November 2014 and written by Seth Motel, a former research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.