Analysis: Why Biden’s marijuana stance is 10 years behind the curve

Earlier this month, five members of the Biden administration were let go at least in part for admitting to past marijuana use. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

But a look at the numbers shows just how different federal law on marijuana is vs. public attitudes of it. The latter are much more favorable toward legalizing it.

Last year, Gallup polling showed that 68% of Americans favored legalizing the drug for recreational use. That was the highest ever recorded by Gallup. A NORC poll last year similarly discovered 67% favored marijuana legalization.
Biden, however, has tread carefully on marijuana reform. While he doesn’t want it to remain illegal, he just wants it to be decriminalized, not legalized.
It’s almost as if the President doesn’t recognize the astounding increase in support for marijuana legalization over the last two decades. In 2010, marijuana legalization was the minority position. Just 46% of Americans were for it and 50% were against it. In 2000, a mere 31% were for legalization. When Biden first became a senator in 1973, 16% favored legalization and 78% opposed it.
Few other issues have seen such a dramatic shift in such a short period of time. Same-sex marriage is one of the few other issues on which public opinion has shifted so quickly. Back in 2000, 34% were in favor and 62% opposed in Gallup polling. That jumped to 44% support in 2010. By 2020, it was up to 67%.
The transformation of public opinion on same-sex marriage coincided with a lot more politicians publicly stating their support.

Interestingly, the same has not happened to a similar degree on marijuana.

Part of that may be because politicians think that drug legalization is a third rail in American politics. They may see the national polling on the issue, but they don’t believe it.

A look at state polls over the last month show that marijuana legalization is popular in states blue and red. A Goucher College poll from Maryland found that 66% favored making marijuana legal. A Quinnipiac poll from New York showed 64% supported it. A Texas Tribune poll showed 60% of Texas voters said marijuana for any use should be legal.

This coincides with pretty much every group backing legalization nationally. The only ones that didn’t in Gallup polling were Republicans (48%), conservatives (49%) and attending religious services weekly (48%). Those numbers are still far higher than their baseline support for a lot of liberal issues.

And to be clear, this isn’t a polling phenomenon. Marijuana legalization isn’t just something that is popular in polling. It’s something that’s popular at the ballot box.

In 2020, there were four different states that had ballot measures for legalizing recreational marijuana. Every single one of them passed.

They passed in a racially diverse blue state like New Jersey (67%), a racially diverse purple state like Arizona (60%) and much Whiter red states like Montana (57%) and South Dakota (54%).

What’s notable here is that in every state, marijuana legalization got a higher percentage of the vote than Biden. Marijuana ran anywhere from about 10 points better (New Jersey) to nearly 20 points better (South Dakota) than Biden did.

It’s hard to imagine that Biden would be hurt by moving his stance from decriminalizing to legalizing. He may even pick up some voters.

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