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October 22, 2013 5:48 PM Fired Up, Ready To Smoke?

By Ed Kilgore

This report from Gallup’s Art Swift is only surprising at the margins:

For marijuana advocates, the last 12 months have been a period of unprecedented success as Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. And now for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized. This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12% favored legalization.
Public support for legalization more than doubled in the 1970s, growing to 28%. It then plateaued during the 1980s and 1990s before inching steadily higher since 2000, reaching 50% in 2011.

Who put the legalization cause one toke over the line, so to speak? From Gallup’s perspective, it was political independents:

Independents’ growing support for legalization has mostly driven the jump in Americans’ overall support. Sixty-two percent of independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012. Support for legalization among Democrats and Republicans saw little change. Yet there is a marked divide between Republicans, who still oppose legalizing marijuana, and Democrats and independents.

To be specific, 65% of Democrats and 62% of indies support legalization, as compared to 35% of Republicans. Even more predictably, there is an inverse relationship between support for legalization and age: 67% of under-30s and 62% of those 30-50 are there; and even a solid majority (56-40) of folks 50-64 have no problem with street-legal wacky tobacky. Only seniors oppose legalization, but even they do so by a narrow 53-45 margin.

It’s been a long time coming, all right. I can remember that when pot possession sentences started resembling speeding tickets in select jurisdictions in the late 1970s, it seemed legalization was just a few puffs away. Then came the War on Drugs, and the rock rolled all the way back down the hill. Now it’s finally happening, or will when the pols catch up with public opinion and/or Republicans lose their grip on state governments.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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