Support for marijuana legalization has reached a new high — and young adults are fueling the flames.
A Gallup poll released Tuesday revealed a majority of adults back cannabis legalization for the first time since Gallup asked the question in 1969.
58% of the respondents supported the idea, but among 18- to 29-year-olds the figure jumps to 67%.
Michael Kenney, professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, says supportive attitudes were inevitable among Millennials who came of age in the midst of the legalization debate.
“Every year, millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens are using cannabis,” Kenney says. “It’s not necessarily looked down on by young people. It’s no big whoop.”
Karilla Dyer, a junior at the University of Florida, meets very few people who haven’t tried the drug. Smoking should be considered a lifestyle choice, she says.
“If someone wants to smoke marijuana occasionally in a social setting or just to relax, it should not be more illegal than having a glass of wine,” the 21-year-old says. “Pot is not something that ruins lives.”
Currently, 20 states and Washington, D.C., allow smoked marijuana to be used for a variety of medical conditions. Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use.
This is in stark contrast to the “just say no” mentality spearheaded by First Lady Nancy Reagan in the ’80s, says Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“The federal government and anti-marijuana crusaders have been exaggerating the harms for decades,” he says. “Young people are hearing more about marijuana and marijuana policy than ever before and realizing it’s less harmful than alcohol.”
Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana and author of Reefer Sanity, says not all college students are bowled over by health claims.
“Students really don’t want to jeopardize their future prospects,” he says. “Marijuana can cause problems in the classroom and job performance.”
Sabet also says Gallup’s poll doesn’t take into consideration how Americans feel about marijuana sales.
“I think students are wary of another industry like the tobacco industry, another corporate interest that is going to live off people’s addiction,” Sabet says.
But Carlan Loeb-Muth, 22, thinks the financial prospects are bolstering support.
“I feel the legalization would significantly help America’s economy,” the Georgia State University junior says. “A good chunk of the profits go towards taxes.”
Arguments for legalization cross party lines, says Alex Kreit, associate law professor at San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
He says decriminalizing marijuana benefits traditional right-leaning tenants like limited government and Democratic concerns like the racial disparity in drug-law enforcement.
“It makes me think that this issue especially has the potential to drive politicians,” he says. “Parties have an inherent interest in appealing to young people early, and there are compelling arguments on both sides in favor of reform.”
Despite the increased support for legalization, young adult marijuana use has decreased, according to poll data.
Millennials reported smoking less than their parents, with Gallup reporting 36% admitted to trying weed compared to 56% of youths in the late ’70s and ’80s.
Joey McGuire, a senior at Minnesota’s Winona State University, says even for students who don’t smoke, current laws reflect a troubling limitation of personal freedoms.
“The government is designed to protect us from each other and should have no rights deciding what we can or cannot do for ourselves,” the 21-year-old says. “I should be able to make any decision for myself as long as it doesn’t negatively affect others.”
Tvert says in some ways, young adult attitudes toward marijuana legalization mirror their feelings about marriage equality.
In March, a joint Washington Post-ABC survey put same-sex marriage approval rates at 70% among Millennials — 3% above the weed approval rate.
“The same reason a heterosexual person might support marriage equality is why someone who doesn’t smoke might support legalization,” he says. “They recognize it’s the right thing to do.”
Source: USA Today (US)
Author: Shayna Posses, USA Today
Published: October 25, 2013
Copyright: 2013 USA Today, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.