Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A majority of Americans say marijuana should be legal, according to a new Pew Research Center Survey.

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and reexamine marijuana convictions.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) passed out of committee 24-10 on Wednesday and will now go before the full House.

The bill would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, allow states to implement their own policies on marijuana, and expunge prior convictions for marijuana offenses.

Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), celebrated the committee’s passage of the bill on Wednesday.

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history. For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notably on communities of color and other already marginalized groups,” Altieri said in a statement.

The judiciary committee’s passage of the bill comes just a week after a new Pew Research Center survey found that two-thirds of Americans (67%) say marijuana should be legal, up from just 41 percent in 2010. Conversely, the share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52% in 2010 to 32% today.

That is the highest percentage of support ever recorded by Pew, which has been measuring Americans’ views on marijuana since 1969. 

The level of support for legalization may even be higher. Pew also asked a separate group of respondents about legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use and found that 91% said marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use (59%) or that it should only be legal for medical use (32%). Just 8% said marijuana should be illegal in all circumstances. 

The findings provide more evidence that marijuana legalization is overwhelmingly popular, regardless of political party. While more Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (78%) say marijuana should be legal, a majority of Republicans and those who lean Republican (55%) also favor legalization. 

In fact, legalization has roughly two-thirds support among every racial, gender and educational group in the U.S., and the main disparity in support is generational. While 76% of millennials, 65% Gen Xers, and 63% of Boomers say marijuana should be legal, only 35% of the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945) support legalization. 

While federal level action on marijuana has only just begun, 11 states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana in recent years.

States that have approved recreational marijuana have received hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year, and New Frontier Data, a cannabis data website, predicts the legalized cannabis market will grow to $25 billion by 2025.

Opponents of legalization frequently cite the danger of increased use among minors and worry about an increase in violent crime, but those fears have not been borne out.

Another 22 states have legalized medical marijuana, while 13 have approved CBD or low-level THC programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

“At a time when the political divides is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree.”

Only four states — Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas — still ban marijuana use in all forms. That number may soon fall to zero, though, as Kansas lawmakers are currently studying the issue, while groups in the other three states are working to place ballot measures regarding legalization of recreational or medical marijuana on the ballot in 2020.

“The percentage of the public who favors adult-use marijuana legalization has skyrocketed over the past three decades and shows no signs of abating,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML said in a statement last week. “At a time when the political divides is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree.”

While it’s unclear whether Senate Republicans or President Trump would support the MORE Act, advocates of legalization say it could prove to be lucrative. A January report by New Frontier Data found that nationwide legalization of recreational marijuana use could generate $86 billion in federal tax revenue between 2019 and 2025.

Legalizing recreational marijuana and regulating commercial sales could also generate nearly $12 billion per year in state and local revenue, according to another January study by Carl Davis, the research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

In addition to Pew’s findings, recent polls from Gallup, the Public Religion Research Institute, and Harvard have also found that roughly two-thirds of Americans support legalization.