A majority of Americans believe marijuana use should be legalized nationwide, according to a new poll.
The CNN/ORC International survey of 1010 adults found that 55 percent of respondents supported legalization while 44 percent said it should remain illegal.
The legalization of marijuana has become a major issue of debate
as Colorado and a number of other states have moved to approve its use for both medical and recreational uses.
The CNN/ORC poll conducted Jan. 3-5 reflects a growing increase
over the past 25 years in support for legalization. For example, in 1987, only 26 percent were in favor of legalizing marijuana; two years ago, surveys reflected that some 43 percent of American adults were supportive.
But CNN Polling Director Keating Holland noted that there are "big differences" on the question when it comes to age, party affiliation, region and gender.
"Senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners (are) the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot," he said.
The most recent survey found that two out of three people aged 18-34 believe pot should be legalized, while 64 percent of Americans aged 34-49 say the same thing. But only 50 percent of people aged 50-64 think it should be legal. The figure was 39 percent for Americans 65 and older.
Holland also pointed out that in 1972 when President Richard Nixon said that drugs were the country's number one enemy, 65 percent of Americans considered marijuana use to be a very serious problem. The figure now is 39 percent.
Today, the number of Americans who believe marijuana is addictive has fallen 10 percent to 50 percent compared to 1972. The percentage of people who say marijuana is a gateway drug has also plunged 23 points from four decades ago.
"Attitudes toward the effects of marijuana and whether it is morally wrong to smoke pot have changed dramatically over time," Holland observed. "That also means that marijuana use is just not all that important to Americans any longer. Clearly there are some reservations about marijuana, but not the widespread fear that existed during the original War on Drugs in the 1970s."
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