With Colorado an early test case, national support for marijuana legalization grows

Over 40 people wait in line to buy recreational marijuana at Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014.

Over 40 people wait in line to buy recreational marijuana at Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014.

DENVER — Just days after Colorado became the first place in the world to witness the legal sale of recreational marijuana, a new survey shows that the rest of the country may support the broader legalization of what remains a controlled substance under federal law.

A CNN/ORC survey released Monday shows that 55 percent of those questioned believe that marijuana should be legal, while 44 percent think it should remain illegal.

Incidentally, Colorado’s Amendment 64, which forced the legalization of recreational pot, was approved in November 2012 by the same margin: 55 percent of the vote.

“There are big differences on age, region, party ID, and gender, with senior citizens, Republicans, and Southerners the only major demographic groups who still oppose the legal use of pot,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Two-thirds of those 18 to 34 said marijuana should be legal, with 64% of those 34 to 49 in agreement.

Half of those 50 to 64 believe marijuana should be legal, but that number dropped to 39% for those age 65 and older.

Support stood at 60% in the Northeast, 58% in the West, 57% in the Midwest, but just 48% in the South. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 59% of Independents, but just 36% of Republicans, backed legalizing marijuana. Fifty-nine percent of men but just 51% of women supported making pot legal.

Also Monday, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who’s doing everything he can to drum up speculation that he could seek the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, offered his loose approval of Colorado’s legalization move when asked about it by Slate’s Dave Weigel.

“Each society has to make choices about what’s against the law. You have a large percentage of the population that’s already using this,” Schweitzer told Weigel. “The war on drugs is another war that appears to have been lost. This experiment with prohibition of marijuana doesn’t seem have to been working.

“Colorado might have it more right than the rest of us.”

The CNN poll was conducted by ORC International, from January 3-5, with 1,010 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Early on, there have been no big failures for opponents of legal marijuana to point to; and national media coverage has been relatively positive.

Note this Time magazine story Monday, crediting the state and Gov. John Hickenlooper for moving past the politics of pot and carrying out the voters’ wishes in a straightforward, pragmatic way.

“The early success of pot’s pilot program was ushered in by a phenomenon almost as rare: a government working as it should,” writes Time’s Alex Altman.