The results of a Pew Research Center study released April 4 showed that the majority of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, but students and experts expressed a wide range of reactions to the poll.
Of the 1,501 American adults polled from March 13-17, 52 percent of respondents said they supported the legalization of marijuana while 45 percent said it should not be legalized.
The results highlights the fact that in the last 50 years, public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has shifted dramatically — a 1969 Gallup survey concluded that 12 percent of Americans favored the legalization while 84 percent did not support its legalization.
Recently, several states have made significant tangible strides in marijuana policy. In the November 2012 election, the states of Colorado and Washington legalized the use of marijuana through a majority vote. These new initiatives allow for individuals over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana.
With the Pew poll revealing that 65 percent of millennials support legalization, many students said they were not surprised by the shifting acceptance of marijuana. Janelle Bongiovanni, a junior majoring in public relations, said that the changing mindsets of younger generations toward legalization contribute to this dynamic shift.
“I think that it isn’t surprising at all,” Bongiovanni said. “In today’s society, it seems to be more accepted than it has been in the past, especially here in California.”
Ben Surbrook, a sophomore double majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and international relations, agreed with Bongiovanni, saying that the statistics follow a trend that has been developing for some time.
“The poll doesn’t really surprise me at all,” Surbrook said. “It seems like that’s the direction America is heading in.”
Studies have shown that legalizing marijuana could be a boon for cash-strapped states, who could regulate marijuana to create more revenue.
Hans Ecke, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said legalization’s financial benefits were appealing.
“I’m indifferent about it because it’s not going to change the accessibility [of marijuana],” Ecke said. “I’m kind of for legalization so California can tax and make some money off of it.”
Some students said they support the legalization of marijuana simply from a policy standpoint. Mica Biton, a junior majoring in biochemistry, said that marijuana’s illegality can often make it more alluring.
“I’m for [the legalization of marijuana],” Biton said, “simply, because with anything that is illegal, there’s going to be more efforts to get it than not.”
And Julie Michaelk, a freshman majoring in theater, was among some students that cited marijuana’s medicinal benefits as a big reason to legalize it.
“People are already doing it and there are medical purposes. I have seen the effects it can have on people in need and it’s beneficial,” Michaelk said.
Though many students supported legalization and the survey seems to show a high probability of marijuana becoming legal in the near future, recent history, at least in California, suggests otherwise.
In the November 2012 election, a majority of California voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized possession marijuana. It was defeated with about 54 percent of the vote.
And some experts continue to express concerns about marijuana use. Professor and founding chair in the Department of Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy in the School of Pharmacy Joel W. Hay, for one, said he was not enthusiastic about the recreational use of marijuana in college.
“The sad thing is that young people suffer much worse outcomes,” Hay said. “Their brains are much more susceptible. The medical evidence is that they become addicted at much higher rates than older people. They are much more susceptible to the bad mental health outcomes.”
And for Hay, the purported negative effects of marijuana outweigh its positive impacts on society.
“Marijuana is essentially decriminalized — it’s less serious in terms of criminal penalties than a traffic ticket, so there aren’t any legal enforcement issues in this state,” Hay said. “Thousands of people are dying in marijuana related traffic accidents, other injuries and accidents. The downsides are enormous, the benefits are trivial.”
But as support for legalization continues to grow at record rates, it’s uncertain whether the downsides of marijuana use will be enough to convince the majority to maintain the federal government’s prohibition on pot.