9 Facts About Americans and Marijuana

The use and possession of marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law, but about three-quarters of states have legalized the drug for medical or recreational purposes. The changing legal landscape has coincided with a decades-long rise in public support for legalization, which a majority of Americans now favor.

Here are nine facts about Americans’ views of and experiences with marijuana, based on Pew Research Center surveys and other sources.

How we did this

Around nine-in-ten Americans say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use, according to a January 2024 Pew Research Center survey. An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (88%) say either that marijuana should be legal for medical use only (32%) or that it should be legal for medical and recreational use (57%). Just 11% say the drug should not be legal in any form. These views have held relatively steady over the past five years.

A pie chart showing that only about 1 in 10 U.S. adults say marijuana should not be legal at all.

Views on marijuana legalization differ widely by age, political party, and race and ethnicity, the January survey shows.

A horizontal stacked bar chart showing that views about legalizing marijuana differ by race and ethnicity, age and partisanship.

While small shares across demographic groups say marijuana should not be legal at all, those least likely to favor it for both medical and recreational use include:

  • Older adults: 31% of adults ages 75 and older support marijuana legalization for medical and recreational purposes, compared with half of those ages 65 to 74, the next youngest age category. By contrast, 71% of adults under 30 support legalization for both uses.
  • Republicans and GOP-leaning independents: 42% of Republicans favor legalizing marijuana for both uses, compared with 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Ideological differences exist as well: Within both parties, those who are more conservative are less likely to support legalization.
  • Hispanic and Asian Americans: 45% in each group support legalizing the drug for medical and recreational use. Larger shares of Black (65%) and White (59%) adults hold this view.

Support for marijuana legalization has increased dramatically over the last two decades. In addition to asking specifically about medical and recreational use of the drug, both the Center and Gallup have asked Americans about legalizing marijuana use in a general way. Gallup asked this question most recently, in 2023. That year, 70% of adults expressed support for legalization, more than double the share who said they favored it in 2000.

A line chart showing that U.S. public opinion on legalizing marijuana, 1969-2023.

Half of U.S. adults (50.3%) say they have ever used marijuana, according to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That is a smaller share than the 84.1% who say they have ever consumed alcohol and the 64.8% who have ever used tobacco products or vaped nicotine.

While many Americans say they have used marijuana in their lifetime, far fewer are current users, according to the same survey. In 2022, 23.0% of adults said they had used the drug in the past year, while 15.9% said they had used it in the past month.

While many Americans say legalizing recreational marijuana has economic and criminal justice benefits, views on these and other impacts vary, the Center’s January survey shows.

  • Economic benefits: About half of adults (52%) say that legalizing recreational marijuana is good for local economies, while 17% say it is bad. Another 29% say it has no impact.
A horizontal stacked bar chart showing how Americans view the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana.
  • Criminal justice system fairness: 42% of Americans say legalizing marijuana for recreational use makes the criminal justice system fairer, compared with 18% who say it makes the system less fair. About four-in-ten (38%) say it has no impact.
  • Use of other drugs: 27% say this policy decreases the use of other drugs like heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, and 29% say it increases it. But the largest share (42%) say it has no effect on other drug use.
  • Community safety: 21% say recreational legalization makes communities safer and 34% say it makes them less safe. Another 44% say it doesn’t impact safety.

Democrats and adults under 50 are more likely than Republicans and those in older age groups to say legalizing marijuana has positive impacts in each of these areas.

Most Americans support easing penalties for people with marijuana convictions, an October 2021 Center survey found. Two-thirds of adults say they favor releasing people from prison who are being held for marijuana-related offenses only, including 41% who strongly favor this. And 61% support removing or expunging marijuana-related offenses from people’s criminal records.

Younger adults, Democrats and Black Americans are especially likely to support these changes. For instance, 74% of Black adults favor releasing people from prison who are being held only for marijuana-related offenses, and just as many favor removing or expunging marijuana-related offenses from criminal records.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for both medical and recreational use as of March 2024, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an advocacy group that tracks state-level legislation on the issue. Another 14 states have legalized the drug for medical use only.

A map of the U.S. showing that nearly half of states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Of the remaining 12 states, all allow limited access to products such as CBD oil that contain little to no THC – the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. And 26 states overall have at least partially decriminalized recreational marijuana use, as has the District of Columbia.

In addition to 24 states and D.C., the U.S. Virgin IslandsGuam and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use.

More than half of Americans (54%) live in a state where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal, and 74% live in a state where it’s legal either for both purposes or medical use only, according to a February Center analysis of data from the Census Bureau and other outside sources. This analysis looked at state-level legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana.

About eight-in-ten Americans (79%) live in a county with at least one cannabis dispensary, according to the February analysis. There are nearly 15,000 marijuana dispensaries nationwide, and 76% are in states (including D.C.) where recreational use is legal. Another 23% are in medical marijuana-only states, and 1% are in states that have made legal allowances for low-percentage THC or CBD-only products.

The states with the largest number of dispensaries include California, Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado and Michigan.

A map of the U.S. showing that cannabis dispensaries are common along the coasts and in a few specific states.

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