A supporter of marijuana legalization rides a float during the Fantasy Fest Parade in Key West, Fla., on Oct. 25, 2014. (Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Poll: Americans still want legalization, just not as much as they did last year

Americans still support marijuana legalization — only not as much as they did in 2013, according to a new poll released by Gallup on Thursday.

About 51 percent of Americans support the legalization of cannabis — down seven points from 2013’s Gallup poll that had support at 58 percent but similar to the 50 percent numbers found in 2012 and 2011. The poll, conducted on Oct. 12-15 a few weeks before the midterm elections, found marijuana’s biggest supporters among liberals (73 percent in favor) and moderates (58 percent in favor) and those living on the east and west coasts. Cannabis legalization remains unpopular among conservatives (31 percent in favor) and those living in the South and Midwest.

So why the drop in popularity for legalization, especially after America watched two more states (Oregon and Alaska) and the District of Columbia legalize recreational marijuana in Tuesday’s election?

2013 marijuana polls: Four surveys in nine months tell a compelling story (video)

“Last year’s finding of 58 percent in favor was recorded as Colorado was preparing to become the first state to implement a law decriminalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use,” Lydia Saad hypothesized in Gallup’s report. “Although the law passed in November 2012, it did not go into effect until January 2014. Americans may have warmed some to proponents’ arguments in 2013 in the ongoing discussion around the Colorado law.

“More recently, Colorado has been in the news over the sale of marijuana-infused edibles — everything from brownies to gummy bears — and the risk they pose to children, possibly sparking public concern. Also, a year ago, proponents in California were poised to launch a ballot initiative for 2014 to legalize marijuana in the Golden State, adding to the sense of momentum for legalization, but later decided to wait until 2016 for fear of losing at the polls, as they did in 2010. The relative lack of attention to new legalization initiatives throughout 2014 may have caused public support to subside.”

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Even with legalization opponents thriving in certain parts of the country, those areas will likely become more receptive to the idea of legal marijuana as young voters grow up and find their political voices, Gallup said.

“As long as support hovers around the 50 percent mark, it will be difficult for proponents to promote legalization beyond the more Democratic and liberal-oriented states,” Saad writes. “The South and Midwest are likely to remain less hospitable, at least for the time being. But with a super-majority of younger Americans supportive — 64% of those aged 18 to 34, contrasted with 41% of those 55 and older — it seems inevitable that this will eventually change.”

Activists on both sides of the issue responded sharply to the poll’s results.

“I would take passage of laws in two states and our nation’s capital over some jumpy poll results any day,” Mason Tvert, communications director with the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Huffington Post. “If Gallup finds 49 percent support in 2016 after five more states vote to end marijuana prohibition, I could live with that.”

Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) president and anti-legalization activist Kevin Sabet told the site: “This poll shows that legalization is far from inevitable and the fight to stop it is far from over.”

Map: State-by-state marijuana laws across the U.S.

The Cannabist spoke with both Tvert and Sabet on Wednesday, the day after Florida’s medical marijuana amendment failed and Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C.’s recreational cannabis initiatives passed. Catch up on those stories here: Tvert and Sabet.

The Gallup poll, with its margin of error at +/- 4 percent, randomly sampled 1,017 adults over age 18 throughout the U.S.

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