Attitudes Towards the Legalization of the Use of Marijuana

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Attitudes Towards the Legalization of the Use of Marijuana


By: The Gallup Organization

Date: 2005

Source: Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003. Reprinted by permission.

About the Author: This chart was created for the U.S. Department of Justice by the Gallup Organization. The Gallup Organization is an American firm that provides market research, health care, and consulting services on a global scale. It routinely conducts polls to gauge public opinion on various issues. Since its establishment in 1958 by American statistician George Gallup (1901–1984), it has become a respected indicator of public opinion.


Also called cannabis, ganja, hash, and spliff, marijuana is the common name of the dried leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, consumed in a variety of ways for recreational or medicinal purposes. Marijuana makes users feel overjoyed, dreamy, and sometimes hallucinated. Overdose or long-term consumption can lead to nausea, anxiety, distress, and severe behavioral problems.

Until well into the twentieth century, the possession and use of marijuana was legal, and it was a frequent ingredient in patent medicines. In 1925, however, trade in marijuana and its more potent, concentrated cousin, hashish, were restricted under the International Opium Convention of 1925. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 imposed fines and severe penalties on anyone dealing in the drug, effectively criminalizing its use, and it was removed from the U.S. pharmacopoeia as an accepted medicine in 1942. Finally, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 listed it as a schedule I drug—grouping it with the most tightly regulated substances, including heroin, LSD, and PCP.

The current federal penalty for marijuana trafficking in the United States can be at the most five years for possession of less than 50 kilograms of marijuana and up to ten years for possession of 1,000 kilos or more. The same penalty applies for possession of the same number of marijuana plants in lieu of weight. Sentences are harsher for repeat offenders, for whom the penalty extends to at most ten years for possession of less than 50 kilograms of marijuana and at least twenty years to life imprisonment for possession of 1,000 kilos or more.

Marijuana has a long history of therapeutic and sedative use, and many recent studies cite it as beneficial in the treatment of glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, while others indicate substantial relief from the side effects of chemotherapy. Some states have passed laws to encourage scientific study for medicinal use. The problem is that federal and state law conflict on this issue. Since Federal law supercedes state law, federal agents have made arrests in states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana and warned doctors that they risk arrest if they prescribe marijuana.

Attitudes toward legalization of the use of marijuana
Question: "Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?"
Yes, legalNo, illegalDon't know/refused
Note: Sample sizes vary from year to year; the data for 2003 are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, 18 years of age and older, conducted November 10-12, 2003.
aAsked of a half sample.
SOURCE: The Gallup Organization, Inc., The Gallup Poll [online]. Available:[June 28,2004]. Table adapted by Sourcebook staff. Reprinted by permission.

The possession and use of marijuana remains illegal in most other countries as well, although some, like the Netherlands, have adopted a nonenforcement policy that tolerates small amounts in personal possession and consumption in "coffee houses." That said, marijuana supporters in the various countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, and Britain have campaigned for the legalization of marijuana use.

"Attitudes toward Legalization of the Use of Marijuana. United Sates. Selected Years, 1969–2003." based on a Gallup poll, was published in July 2004.



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Marijuana is the most widely used prohibited substance in the United States. Typically, it's brewed into a tea, smoked in pipes, mixed with food, or taken in combination with other drugs. Other ways of consuming marijuana include vaporizing and burning it to inhale its fumes.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates the number of marijuana users at around 11.5 million and says that at least a third of the American population has experimented with the drug at some point, because despite enforcement of drug laws, it is relatively easy to obtain and consume. There were close to a million new users of this drug in 2002 alone.

Although considered relatively harmless by many people, detailed studies by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to assess the effects of marijuana noted an increased risk of addiction and possible damage to the brain, heart, throat, and lungs. Studies conducted on pregnant women indicate increased risk to the well-being of mother and the child. Children born to such mothers may exhibit behavioral irregularities and may also have poorer memory and lower levels of attentiveness. Children who use marijuana often lose interest in school and are more likely to drop out.

Despite such potentially serious effects, the Gallup poll above showed that by 2003 the number of respondents who thought that marijuana should be legalized had nearly tripled from the 12 percent who thought so in 1969. Not surprisingly, respondents who wanted to keep marijuana illegal dropped from 84 percent in 1969 to 64 percent in 2003.

Many of those who support marijuana's legalization claim its active ingredient, THC, is an effective therapy for the pain and nausea of AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and other diseases. Critics, including the DEA, however, do not agree and maintain marijuana has no proven medical benefits.


Web sites

Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics. "Information about Medical Uses of Marijuana." 〈〉 (accessed January 14, 2006).

DEA: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "Drug Trafficking in the United States." 〈〉 (accessed January 14, 2006).

―――――― "Exposing the Myth of Smoked Medical Marijuana." 〈〉 (accessed January 14, 2006).

NIDA: National Institute on Drug Abuse. "NIDA Infofacts: Marijuana." 〈〉 (accessed January 14, 2006).

USA Today. "Attitudes Ease toward Medical Marijuana." 〈〉 (accessed January 14, 2006).

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