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News Release | New Survey: Half of Christian Young Adults Favor Legalizing Marijuana; Majority Say Using Marijuana Is Morally Acceptable

[04.25.2013]

Majority of Americans say legalization not a sign of ‘moral decline of nation’

WASHINGTON – Half of Christian young adults (age 18 – 29) support the legalization of marijuana, compared to 22 percent of Christian seniors (age 65 and older), finds a new survey conducted in the wake of continuing debates about the legalization of marijuana at the state level. Americans overall, however, are divided, with 45 percent in support and 49 percent opposed to the legalization of pot.

The new survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, also finds that a majority (52 percent) of Christian young adults think that using marijuana is morally acceptable, compared to 49 percent of Americans overall and only 25 percent of Christian seniors.

“While most religious Americans overall continue to oppose the legalization of marijuana, the generational sea change on this issue is also shifting the ground inside churches,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.  “Christian young adults are twice as likely as Christian senior adults to say both that marijuana should be legal and that using marijuana is morally acceptable.”

With increased attention on the legalization of marijuana, particularly after 2012 referenda in Colorado and Washington State, the new survey finds that the majority of Americans (60 percent) do not believe that the new laws represent “a sign of the moral decline of America.”

The new survey finds that white evangelical Protestants are the only group in which a majority (58 percent) believe that new laws do indeed represent the “moral decline of America.” Fewer than four-in-ten of other major religious groups, including 36 percent of white mainline Protestants, 36 percent of minority Christians, and 32 percent of Catholics agree. Less than one-in-five (16 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans believe that the recent legalization of marijuana in some states is a sign of the moral decline of America.

“Marijuana, like the issue of same-sex marriage, appears headed for broader cultural acceptance,” said PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox. “Six-in-ten Americans do not believe that new laws legalizing the use of marijuana signal widespread moral decline in the country.”

When it comes to trying marijuana, Catholics are less likely to report having ever tried marijuana than members of other religious groups, the new survey finds. Only about 3-in-10 (33 percent) Catholics report having tried marijuana, compared to 54 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 52 percent of minority Christians, 44 percent of white mainline Protestants and 40 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

Overall, 42 percent of Americans report having tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

Among the Findings:

Americans are roughly divided on whether marijuana use should be legal. Forty-five percent of Americans favor making the use of marijuana legal, while 49 percent are opposed. There are significant divisions by political and religious affiliation.

  • Less than 3-in-10 (29 percent) white evangelical Protestants, 40 percent of Catholics, and 40 percent of minority Christians favor making the use of marijuana legal.  Nearly half (49 percent) of white mainline Protestants favor making the use of marijuana legal, while 45 percent are opposed. By contrast, nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor making marijuana legal.
  • Democrats (54 percent) and independents (51 percent) are much more likely than Republicans (25 percent) to favor making the use of marijuana legal.
  • Non-Hispanic white (47 percent) and black (48 percent) Americans are significantly more likely to support marijuana legalization than Hispanic Americans (34 percent).
  • Young adults (age 18-29) are more likely than middle-aged Americans (age 50-64) or seniors (65 and older) to favor the legalization of marijuana (54 percent, 45 percent, and 28 percent respectively).
  • The experience of trying marijuana has a strong influence on attitudes about legalization.  Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans who report they have ever tried marijuana support legalizing marijuana, while an identical number (65 percent) of Americans who report that they have not tried marijuana oppose its legalization.

There is considerably more support for legalizing marijuana if it is to be used for medical purposes. Most Americans (63 percent) who oppose the general legalization of marijuana nonetheless favor making marijuana legal to treat certain medical conditions if prescribed by a doctor. In addition to the 45 percent of Americans who favor the general legalization of marijuana, 35 percent of Americans say they would favor the legalization of medical marijuana, compared to less than 1-in-5 (19 percent) who oppose the legalization of medical marijuana. Majorities of all major religious groups and political parties favor the legalization of medical marijuana.

More than 4-in-10 (42 percent) Americans report having tried marijuana at some point in their lives, while about 6-in-10 (57 percent) say they have never tried marijuana.

  • Democrats (48 percent) are significantly more likely than Republicans (36 percent) to say they have tried marijuana.
  • Men (49 percent) are more likely than women (35 percent) to report having ever used marijuana.
  • Young adults (43 percent) and middle-aged Americans (48 percent) are approximately three times more likely than seniors (15 percent) to report having tried marijuana.
  • Black Americans (52 percent) are more likely than both white non-Hispanic Americans (43 percent) and Hispanic Americans (33 percent) to report having tried marijuana.

Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans believe that using marijuana is morally acceptable, while 4-in-10 (40 percent) say that marijuana use is morally wrong.

  • There are significant differences of opinion among religious groups. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) white evangelical Protestants and half (50 percent) of minority Christians believe that using marijuana is morally wrong. By contrast, majority (58 percent) white mainline Protestants and two-thirds (67 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans say marijuana use is morally acceptable. Catholics are divided in their views about the morality of using marijuana: 46 percent say it is morally acceptable, and 41 percent say it is morally wrong.
  • Democrats and Republicans have virtually opposite moral judgments about the use of marijuana. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats say marijuana use is morally acceptable, while 56 percent of Republicans say it is morally wrong.
  • Americans living in the West (56 percent) are substantially more likely than Americans living in the South (43 percent) to say using marijuana is morally acceptable.

Fewer Americans believe that using marijuana constitutes a sin or that it is prohibited by the Bible.

  • Less than 1-in-4 (23 percent) Americans believe using marijuana is a sin, while 70 percent disagree. However, white evangelical Protestants are more divided than any other religious group: 40 percent say using marijuana is a sin, while 48 percent say it is not.
  • One-in-five (20 percent) Americans, including nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) white evangelical Protestants, believe that the Bible prohibits marijuana use.

More than one-third (35 percent) of Americans believe that new laws legalizing the usage of marijuana are a sign of the moral decline of America. Six-in-ten (60 percent) Americans disagree.

  • Republicans (53 percent) are twice as likely as Democrats (26 percent) to believe that new laws legalizing marijuana are a sign of America’s moral decline.

When asked whether they use a nickname or slang term for marijuana, half of Americans refer to marijuana as either “weed” (28 percent) or “pot” (22 percent), while fewer report using terms such as “Mary Jane” (6 percent), “grass” (3 percent), “joint” or “doobie” (3 percent), “dope” (2 percent), “ganja” (2 percent), or “blunt” (2 percent).

  • Young adults (42 percent) are twice as likely as middle-aged Americans (19 percent) to refer to marijuana as “weed,” while middle-aged Americans are roughly twice as likely as young adults to refer to marijuana as “pot” (27 percent vs. 14 percent).

The April PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between April 17, 2013 and April 21, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,000 adults 18 years of age or older in the entire United States (400 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points.

Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here.
Graphic available for use, with attribution to Public Religion Research Institute, here.

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