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Marijuana Culture Is Becoming Mainstream Culture

Public opinion changed drastically on marijuana culture in the past two decades. Skittish lawmakers haven’t caught up


Marijuana culture is becoming mainstream culture. Americans broadly agree that the country’s marijuana laws need an update, reports Five Thirty Eight. According to polling conducted by Morning Consult/Politico just days before President Biden’s Oct. 6 marijuana pardons, 6 in 10 American voters said weed should be legal in the U.S.

That number rises to about 7 in 10 among voters under 45 (70 percent), Democrats (71 percent) and Black voters (72 percent). Even among the groups least likely to support legalizing marijuana — Republicans (47 percent) and voters 65 or over (45 percent) — almost half of respondents agreed. There’s no real divide across regions, either. 

“Current laws, however, do not reflect this sweeping bipartisan, universal support,” Five Thirty Eight reports. ”The legalization of marijuana puts a spotlight on the divide between Americans and politicians, namely Republican members of Congress.” [Emphasis added.]

The Cultural Baggage of Cannabis

Public opinion has changed drastically on this issue in the past two decades. But getting skittish lawmakers to catch up with national savvy has not been easy, when it comes to marijuana culture.

This is especially and acutely true when Cannabis carries a century of social baggage. In today’s hyper-partisan, performative political atmosphere, getting a broad consensus on any contentious issue has become, of course, exponentially more difficult.

In many ways, the marijuana culture wars are a bizarre continuation of the 1960s clash between the counterculture and the straights. But it must be quickly added that now, with the cresting Green Wave of legal weed, hippie culture has finally found a way (beyond rock music, anyway) to seep into the cultural mainstream.

Everybody loves a dollar, don’t ya know. And capitalism has shown, if nothing else, an astounding ability to absorb and co-opt movements which had, early on, seemed antithetical to its values.

1977: Boatloads of Colombian Gold

Support for relaxing our archaic weed laws hasn’t always been so widespread. Back in 1972 when Gallup first polled Americans on the topic, it was just eight months after then-President Richard Nixon declared the nation’s infamous War On Drugs. Only 15 percent agreed that marijuana should be legal. Meanwhile, in a separate Gallup survey conducted several days prior to that, just 11 percent said that they had actually tried weed.

But by April 1977, with literal boatloads of Santa Marta Gold coming in by the ton, the floodgates had opened in America. Marijuana culture bloomed in the beneficent permissiveness of the Carter years. Support for legalization reached 28 percent.

But with the advent of Ronald Reagan’s two terms in 1981, there was a pronounced swing to the right. First Lady Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign, along with a much broader right-wing culture war “against the Sixties,” tried to flip the script back to Reefer Madness. As always, unfortunately, a few were weak minded, avaricious, or intellectually lazy enough to fall for it.

Support Plateaued Until About 2000

Support for legalization thus mostly plateaued until around 2000.

(Kids, I’m not kidding about the broader right-wing culture wars of the 1980s. Check your history. For heaven’s sakes, the Attorney General of the United States engaged in a campaign to remove Playboy Magazine from mini-marts.)

Since then, however, support has risen, one might say, precipitously. As of a year ago, in October 2021, 68 percent of Americans said Cannabis should be legal. And in July, 48 percent of Americans said that they had actually tried it. Those numbers are the highest they’ve been in the five decades since Nixon (and the four decades since Reagan).

Thirty-seven states, as well as Washington, DC, and three U.S. territories, have legalized medical marijuana for medicinal purposes. Meanwhile, 19 states, DC, and two territories have also done so for adult use. Obviously, federal marijuana laws aren’t just out of touch with reality — they are out of touch with most Americans, and out of touch with most state laws, as well. 

Still, President Biden’s pardon is ahead of the curve. Most states haven’t yet overturned state-level marijuana possession convictions. Following the order, Biden called on governors to issue similar pardons.

That would be a decidely popular move. Recent polling from YouGov found 62% of Americans would back such a measure in their state. In fact, a majority of every demographic group tracked support it. Well, that is, except Republicans, with an apparent fondness for the past and Drug War nostalgia. Just 41 percent of self-identifying GOP voters support the pardons.

How Long Will Marijuana Culture Take?

These culture wars have consequences. One of them is that Americans seem irrevocably split, nearly down the middle, on whether Cannabis use harms society at large.

In July, 49 percent told Gallup that the impact of marijuana on society was at least somewhat positive. But 50 percent said it was at least somewhat negative.

Compared with their views on other controlled substances, though, this actually supports the idea that Americans feel good about weed, Five Thirty Eight points out.

Think about it. An overwhelming 75 percent of Americans say alcohol use has at least a somewhat negative impact on society. When given the facts, plenty of folks have sense enough to figure things out.

That’s a huge reason why it’s clear that sentiments among Americans are headed toward coast-to-coast legalization. “The question now,” Five Thirty Eight points out, ”is how long it will take for nationwide policies to reflect where the people stand.”

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