Nationwide support for marijuana legalization, like nationwide support for gay marriage, has increased dramatically, although not quite as swiftly, rising from 12 percent in a 1969 Gallup poll to a record 50 percent last year. While support for legalization dipped a bit during the anti-pot backlash of the Just Say No era, it began rising again in the 1990s. Public Policy Polling recently put it at 58 percent, the highest level ever recorded.
With pot as with gay marriage, there are clear age-related differences, reflecting different levels of experience with marijuana. In the CBS News survey, support for legalization was 54 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds, 53 percent among 30- to 44-year-olds, 46 percent among 45- to 64-year-olds and 30 percent among respondents of retirement age.
Just as an individual's attitude toward gay people depends to a large extent on how many he knows (or, more to the point, realizes he knows), his attitude toward pot smokers (in particular, his opinion about whether they should be treated like criminals) is apt to be influenced by his personal experience with them. Americans younger than 65, even if they have never smoked pot, probably know people who have, and that kind of firsthand knowledge provides an important reality check on the government's anti-pot propaganda.
Another clear pattern in both of these areas: Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to oppose legalizing gay marriage and marijuana. Yet Republicans are also more likely to oppose federal interference with state policy choices. In light of DOMA's disregard for state marriage laws and the Obama administration's threats to prevent Colorado and Washington from allowing marijuana sales, now is put-up-or-shut-up time for the GOP's avowed federalists.