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Poll: Three-fourths of Americans say pot will be legal

Store manager David Martinez labels pot items in Denver on Dec. 31. (Associated Press)
Store manager David Martinez labels pot items in Denver on Dec. 31. (Associated Press)
Kristen Wyatt Associated Press

DENVER – Three-fourths of Americans say it’s inevitable that marijuana will be legal for recreational use across the nation, whether they support such policies or not, according to a public opinion poll released Wednesday that highlights shifting attitudes following the drug war era and tough-on-crime legislation.

The Pew Research Center survey also shows increased support for ending mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and doing away altogether with jail time for small amounts of marijuana.

The telephone survey found that 75 percent of respondents – including majorities of both supporters and opponents of legal marijuana – think that the sale and use of pot eventually will be legal nationwide.

It was the first time that question had been asked, but it reflects a gradual trend of acceptance.

The survey indicates that four years ago, 52 percent of respondents said they thought the use of marijuana should not be legal, while 41 percent said it should. The new poll shows a reversal with 54 percent in favor of legalization and 42 percent opposed. It marked a turning point in a gap that has been shrinking fairly steadily since 1969, the earliest data available, when 84 percent said pot should be illegal and only 12 percent thought otherwise.

The survey also highlighted a dramatic shift in attitudes on drug conviction penalties.

Respondents said by a margin greater than 3-to-1 that people who use small amounts of pot shouldn’t go to jail.

Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 to set mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes that could end up in life sentences for repeat offenders.

Years later, many states reported prisons bursting at the seams, prompting public officials to start abandoning “lock ‘em up” drug policies in the 1990s. The trend has since accelerated.

The poll suggested that, despite shifting attitudes on legalization, the public remains concerned about drug abuse, with 32 percent of those surveyed calling it a crisis and 55 percent of respondents viewing it as a serious national problem.

The poll of 1,821 adults was conducted Feb. 14-23. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

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