The issue of marijuana legalization is being debated anew after Gallup found, for the first time, a majority of Americans support legalizing the use of marijuana. The recently released American Values Survey shows a slim majority (51 percent) of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization, while 44 percent are opposed. Despite the uptick in support for legalizing marijuana, different religious groups have distinct views on this proposal. While less than 3-in-10 (29 percent) white evangelical Protestants and less than half (48 percent) of Catholics favor marijuana legalization, clear majorities of both white mainline Protestants (58 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (78 percent) favor this measure.
However, there are notable generational differences within each of these faith groups. Among religiously unaffiliated Americans, support for legalizing marijuana is very high, and opinions on this issue do not differ appreciably by generation. Seventy-six percent of those younger than 40 favor legalization, as do 8-in-10 (80 percent) of those 40 and older.
On the other hand, white mainline Protestants – of which a majority (58 percent) favor making marijuana use legal – do exhibit a notable generational gap. More than 6-in-10 of of those younger than age 40 (63 percent) and between 40 and 64 (64 percent) favor legalizing marijuana, while only 38 percent of white mainline Protestants who are 65 and older feel the same. So as younger generations continue to age, support for marijuana legalization among this religious group should see a significant increase.
There is a similar trend among American Catholics. Although fewer than half (48 percent) of this group currently supports legalization, younger Catholics are on the verge of pushing favorability of legalizing marijuana over the majority mark. Half of those under age 40 and 51 percent of those who are between 40 and 64 favor making marijuana legal. Among Catholics who are 65 and older, however, only 41 percent favor legalization. Similar to white mainline Protestants, as Catholics grow older, overall support for legalizing marijuana will follow.
Finally, white evangelical Protestants currently have the lowest overall favorability level toward marijuana legalization (29 percent) among religious groups. However, there is also a significant difference of opinion between older and younger white evangelical Protestants, though majorities remain opposed across the age spectrum. While a mere 16 percent over the age of 65 favor legalization, around twice as many between the ages of 18 and 39 (29 percent) favor this proposal.
Last November, Colorado and Washington became the first states in the nation to legalize recreational use of marijuana. PRRI’s research finds that a majority of all Americans favor legalization of marijuana., and while religious groups remain split over this measure, support for legalization among younger Americans may soon cause other states to replicate the reforms of Colorado and Washington.