Americans From Both Parties Want Weed To Be Legal. Why Doesn’t The Federal Government Agree?

Poll(s) of the Week

Tuesday marked the international holiday for marijuana — and consumers of the plant had lots to celebrate this year. 

New York, Virginia and New Mexico all passed legislation in 2021 legalizing marijuana,1 bringing the total number of states where recreational consumption is legal up to 17, along with Washington, D.C. At the federal level, the House of Representatives passed a bill this week which allows banks to conduct business with cannabis-related companies in states where marijuana has been legalized, with the support of about half of the chamber’s Republicans and almost all of its Democrats; the bill now awaits its fate in the Senate.2 Before it was passed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Politico he wants to tackle the House bill but wants to “figure out the right way to do that.” He has been working on comprehensive legislation to end the federal ban on the drug independent of President Biden, who has indicated that he may not be on board.


But even if Biden may not be ready to pivot on marijuana legalization just yet (decriminalization, not legalization for recreational use, was part of his campaign platform), the polling on the issue has been loud and clear: People want weed to be legal.

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related: What Have We Learned From Biden’s First 100 Days? Read more. »

Gallup has asked Americans about whether they support legalizing marijuana since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans supported the idea. As of their most recent poll last November, that number has ticked up to 68 percent, the highest level of support on record. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of states where recreational marijuana is now legal has also steadily increased since the Obama administration announced in 2013 that it wouldn’t block state laws that legalized the drug, provided that marijuana was strongly regulated.

And if recent polling in states where marijuana is not yet legal for recreational use is any indication, it is possible that even more states will change course. Although, as the chart above shows, legislators have often been slow to legalize marijuana for recreational use: Thirteen of the 18 states where marijuana is legal have done it via voter-driven ballot initiatives rather than legislation. That said, legalization is broadly popular even in more Republican-leaning states like Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.

Where marijuana legalization could happen next

Polls of support for legalizing marijuana in states where recreational use is not yet legal

State Poll Dates (2021) SUPPORT OPPOSE NET
Conn. Sacred Heart University March 23-31 66% 27% +39
Pa. Muhlenberg College March 15-29 58 26 +32
La. JMC Analytics March 22-23 67 24 +43
Iowa Morningside University March 8-22 51 43 +8
Fla. PPP / Florida for Care March 12-13 59 31 +28
Pa. Franklin & Marshall March 1-7 59 33 +26
Md. Goucher College Feb. 23-28 67 28 +39
Texas University of Texas/Texas Tribune Feb. 12-28 60 41 +19
N.C. Elon University Jan. 29-31 54 34 +20

Includes both polls that ask specifically about recreational use as well as polls that ask about legalizing marijuana for any purpose. Does not include polls that only asked about legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Source: Polls

Marijuana legalization may appeal to voters in both very blue and red states, in part, because it’s an issue with bipartisan support. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans supported marijuana legalization for medical and recreational use. Further, Pew found that exceedingly few adults of any age were “completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana,” though it did find that older Americans were less likely than younger Americans to be in favor of legalization. Only 27 percent of Republicans 65 and older supported legalization, the lowest level of support among any group Pew surveyed.

But just because legalization is broadly popular doesn’t mean we should expect federal legislation on the issue soon. For starters, not all Senate Democrats back Schumer’s plan, and Senate Republicans have yet to show any support for legalization. Additionally, while legalizing marijuana is popular, it isn’t a top priority for many voters. That may be, in part, due to the success of legalization efforts at the state level. More than one in three Americans live in states where marijuana is already legal for recreational use, and a sizable majority live in states where marijuana is legal for medical use. For those who already have access to the drug, it may not matter whether it’s their state government or the federal government making that allowance. Finally, as my colleague Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out earlier this year, electoral politics are increasingly disconnected from policy, meaning that despite the popularity of marijuana legalization, there may simply not be a ton of electoral benefit for Biden for taking up the issue.

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Related: Does Your Member Of Congress Vote With Or Against Biden? Read more. »

Still, if the polling is any indication, legalizing marijuana is hugely popular, and Biden may yet change his mind, depending on how the politics of the bill play out. And if he does, he may even get some brownie points from Republican voters who support legalization. But if things start to get politically messy, Biden may not have a lot to lose by passing on championing this particular issue.

Other polling bites

  • New York City’s mayoral primary is less than two months away, and it will be the first time the city is using ranked-choice voting since recently adopting the measure. But according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Spectrum News NY1, 26 percent of Democratic likely voters still don’t know who their first-choice candidate will be in the Democratic primary. However, as in other polls of the race, former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang led the pack with 22 percent of likely voters favoring him as their first choice. He was followed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams with 13 percent support, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer with 11 percent and a host of other candidates in the single digits.
  • Everyone loves a good celebrity candidate poll, and this week, the UT Tyler / Dallas Morning News poll delivered. The poll showed Texans supporting actor Matthew McConaughey over Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a hypothetical governor’s race, 45 percent to 33 percent. But that election is, of course, still over a year and a half away, and McConaughey has not even decided which party he would align himself with if he ran. This poll should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt.
  • Confidence in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine plummeted last week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in its use over concerns about rare cases of blood clots related to the vaccine. Among those who haven’t been vaccinated but said they would, just 24 percent said they’d be willing to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, down from 52 percent the week before that, according to a recent SurveyMonkey poll. Overall vaccine confidence has stayed about the same, though, as the share who were willing to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines hovered at 66 and 61 percent, respectively, a slight increase in confidence for each vaccine from the previous week.
  • A special election in Texas’s 6th Congressional District will take place on May 1 to fill the seat of Republican representative Ronald Wright, who died from complications of COVID-19 in February. And a poll by Meeting Street Insights for the Washington Free Beacon shows no candidate anywhere close to the 50 percent needed to win outright, which means the race will likely go to a runoff. Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez leads in the poll with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Republican candidate Susan Wright, the widow of the congressman who previously held the seat, who received 17 percent. Two other Republican candidates polled in the double digits: Jake Ellzey, a current state representative, and Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration official, earned 16 percent and 12 percent support, respectively.
  • This week was chock-full of unofficial holidays: Tuesday was 420, and Thursday marked the 51st Earth Day, which is held on the anniversary of nationwide protests in 1970 that drew millions of Americans to advocate for climate issues. This Earth Day, however, an Ipsos poll found that only 18 percent of Americans think that their government has a clear plan to combat climate change. Respondents in 30 countries were asked about their government’s response to the climate crisis, and the United States government ranked 29th in its own people’s evaluation of its efforts, trailed only by the Japanese government.
  • Albanians head to the polls this Sunday, in the first parliamentary election since several opposition party members of parliament resigned en masse.3 Several polls indicate that the Socialist Party of Albania, which is currently in control of the government, will win the most seats, but at least one poll does show their conservative rivals, the Democratic Party of Albania, ahead. The country’s politics have been tense in recent years, and a shooting earlier this week outside of Tirana, the country’s capital, has further inflamed tensions ahead of the election.

Biden Approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,4 53.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +13 points). At this time last week, 52.8 percent of Americans approved of Biden, while 40.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +12 points). One month ago, 55.1 percent of Americans approved of Biden, compared to 39.1 percent who disapproved.