Legal pot: Changes in attitudes

More Americans now favor leglization of marijuana than oppose it, according to a recent report by Pew Research.
SOURCE: Gallup, General Social Survey and Pew Research Center

October 13, 2013

High hopes for legalizing marijuana in Maine

As national views over recreational use gradually shift, will next month’s vote in Portland prove that change is in the air?

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

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Crash Barry, a writer from Oxford County who grows marijuana for medicinal use, lights a marijuana cigarette in Portland last week.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Melissa Thomas of Portland says she supports legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. “I don’t want my son growing up and thinking I’m a criminal,” she says.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers – those 50 and older who grew up during the counterculture revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s – have been all over the map when it comes to legalization.

In 1978, 47 percent of boomers favored legalization. That support plummeted to 17 percent when President Ronald Reagan was in office. Now, half of boomers support legalization.

The only age groups that don’t support legalization are members of the Silent Generation (born from 1925-1945) and Greatest Generation (1901-1924). Their support comes in at 32 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Timmi Sellers of Portland, a 64-year-old registered nurse, stopped smoking marijuana in the 1980s when she had children.

However, Sellers supports legalizing marijuana for adults and believes the drug is beneficial to combat anxiety and stress, even though smoking it can be harmful. Now that her two daughters are adults, Sellers said she would like to experiment with marijuana again.

Her husband, Rory, is a 65-year-old computer programmer who smokes marijuana when it is available, especially when watching movies or doing certain creative projects. He prefers marijuana over alcohol. “Alcohol is not intellectually interesting,” he says.

“We want it to be legal so we can enjoy it and not break the law,” Rory Sellers said.

Authors of a recent Brookings Institution report concluded that fewer people view marijuana as a gateway drug – one that leads to addiction to more dangerous drugs. And, they wrote, an increasing number of Americans doubt the government’s ability to enforce marijuana laws, similar to the way Americans regard the failed enforcement of alcohol during Prohibition.

Seventy-two percent of adults surveyed believe that enforcing marijuana costs more than it’s worth. And 77 percent believe marijuana has legitimate medical uses.

Marijuana legalization is a rare example of an issue that enjoys support across the political spectrum, according to the Brookings report.

Moderates and liberals support legalization, while conservatives believe legalization should be taken up at the state level, even if they personally have a negative view of the drug, the report said. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Republicans reported past use of marijuana, compared to 47 percent of Democrats.

“In an area when the attitudes of so many Americans on so many issues are driven by party preferences and ideological leanings, marijuana legalization is a partial exception, displaying a significant degree of ideological and partisan crossover,” they wrote.

For example, 60 percent of Republicans surveyed said marijuana should be illegal. Meanwhile, 59 percent of Democrats favored legalization and 60 percent of independents favored legalization.

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Portland’s referendum is being promoted by the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that was instrumental in legalization efforts in Denver and later in the entire state of Colorado. The group also helped draft Maine’s medical marijuana law.

Maine is one of 11 states that has legalized the use of medicinal marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession, making possession of small amounts a civil offense rather than a criminal one. While Maine is among the more pro-marijuana states, it is still following the leaders.

Last year, voters in both Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana statewide. Supporters in Washington celebrated their victory by openly smoking in the presence of police officers.

Last month, the Justice Department announced that it would not sue those states over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults, as long as the states adhere to federal priorities, such as preventing drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from kids and off the black market.

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Additional Photos

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Smoke billows from a marijuana cigarette in Portland last week. On Nov. 5, the city will vote on a citizen-led referendum to enact an ordinance to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. There will still be no legal way for people to obtain marijuana.

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Rory Sellers of Portland says he uses marijuana recreationally. He says he and his wife "want it to be legal so we can enjoy it and not break the law."

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A smoker rolls a marijuana cigarette in Portland. Youth advocates worry about the impact of a campaign supporting legalization of the drug.

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Today's poll: Legalize marijuana

Do you support legalizing marijuana?



View Results