All-time high: Majority of Republicans support pot legalization for first time

For the first time, a majority of Republicans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll out Wednesday.

Fifty-one percent of Republicans tell Gallup that, yes, marijuana should be legal, up from 42 percent last year.

That support has led to a whopping two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) supporting pot legalization, the highest ever recorded by Gallup. Gallup has data on the question since 1969.

How quickly has support for marijuana changed among Americans? In 2004, just over a third supported it. Roughly that many Democrats were in favor, and only 20 percent of Republicans were.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

What has changed? Half the country has moved toward marijuana legalization in some form — with more than a half-dozen states having legalized pot for recreational use and more than dozen others having legalized medical marijuana. (Governing has a good map of that.)

As Gallup's Justin McCarthy notes, "As efforts to legalize marijuana at the state level continue to yield successes, public opinion, too, has shifted toward greater support."

Yet, the Trump administration has taken a tack in the opposite direction.

"When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we need to be doing is encouraging people," said then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer several months ago. "There is still a federal law we need to abide by."

President Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has a long record of being no fan of marijuana. In the 1980s, his nomination for a federal judgeship was derailed, in part, because of the revelation that he had joked that he thought the KKK was "OK until I found out they smoked pot."

As a senator, Sessions was very much set against marijuana, remarking during a hearing just last year: "Good people don't smoke marijuana."

Of course, there is no guarantee that support stays at these levels, as NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben noted last year, especially if there are unintended consequences in the states where it's legal — and if as millennials get older and have children, they change their minds.

But the trend in public opinion at this point is undeniable.