The Past, Present and Potential Future of Marijuana Legalization


On November 6, 2012, voters in two states broke new ground by passing referenda that made recreational use of marijuana legal under state law.  These victories followed a string of electoral setbacks for legalization ballot efforts, and, along with more recent wins in Oregon and Washington, DC, merit careful analysis of what has changed in this debate and what the future of marijuana legalization could look like.
In an article published by two pollsters who participated in this revolution from the inside, Anna Greenberg and David Walker analyze broad changes in public opinion that led to these victories, and speculate on how future legalization efforts will possibly unfold.  Among other conclusions, they show:

  • One key to winning on legalization is finding a reason for voters who do not like and do not use marijuana to support legalization, regardless.
  • The pro-legalization majority is not primarily the result of generational replacement and the rise of Millennial voters, but changes within generations, including older voters.
  • Support for legalization has nearly doubled since the 1980’s while the overall use of marijuana has been constant and many voters still hold on to some myths around this drug (e.g. that marijuana is physically addictive).
  • A majority of Americans support legalization—and legalization won in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Washington, DC—because voters concluded that the war on drugs failed, and that the cost of marijuana prohibition exceeded its purported benefits. 
  • Two specific arguments drove support for reform, that legalization can decrease crime because it destroys the black market and frees law enforcement resources for more serious crimes, and that legalization can provide a critical source of revenue in tight-budget environments.
  • The future of marijuana legalization efforts will be shaped by the current national conversation around social justice and over-policing and, more broadly, by the experience and example of marijuana legalization in Washington, Colorado, Oregon and the District.

To read the article, click here.