Most High School Seniors Favor Liberal Marijuana Policies
As public attitudes on marijuana seem to be in the middle of an important shift, researchers from New York University (NYU) set out to examine the marijuana policy attitudes of high school seniors—the country’s newest voters and almost-voters. The NYU study used data from the ongoing Monitoring the Future Survey, which is administered to approximately 15,000 high school seniors each year across 48 states. The NYU researchers looked at the responses of 11,594 students from 2007 to 2011.
In addition to examining the policy attitudes of young people who are about to begin voting on such issues, this study is part of larger efforts to analyze support and opposition to marijuana legalization. One of the primary questions is whether most of the support for marijuana legalization comes from those who use the drug or whether legalization also has a strong base of support among people who do not use marijuana.
Over 30 Percent of Seniors Support Marijuana Legalization
The NYU study found that the majority of high school seniors favored liberal marijuana policies such as legalization or minor penalties for possession. A total of 28.5 percent of the seniors surveyed said that marijuana possession should be a minor violation, while 33 percent said that marijuana should be legalized for both medical and recreational purposes.
However, 48 percent of the respondents said that only adults should be permitted to purchase marijuana. Of the remaining students, 10.4 percent said that anyone should be able to buy it, 29.2 percent said that no one should be able to purchase marijuana and 12.4 were unsure.
Some of students remained undecided about marijuana policy, with 12.9 percent reporting that they were unsure whether marijuana possession should be a crime. The remaining 25.6 percent of students said they thought marijuana should remain criminalized.
Gender, Racial, Geographical and Religious Differences in Marijuana Attitudes
The study found that male students tended to be more in favor of legalization than female students. Of the females surveyed, 26.7 percent said that marijuana should be legal, compared to 39.2 percent of males.
Students who identified themselves as black or Hispanic were also more likely to be in favor of policies that legalized or reduced penalties for marijuana. Non-whites make up the majority of those who are incarcerated for marijuana offenses, despite the fact that studies have found that blacks and Hispanics are actually less likely to use marijuana.
Patterns in marijuana attitudes were also apparent among seniors who lived in urban areas and seniors who lived in more rural locations. Those who lived in cities—both small and large—were more likely to support liberal marijuana policies. Those who lived in non-urban locations were more likely to say that marijuana should remain criminalized.
Students who are highly religious were less likely to support full legalization of marijuana, but many felt that marijuana possession should carry lighter penalties. In all, 47.4 percent of those who identified themselves as highly religious supported either legalization or lighter consequences. Nationwide, attitudes about marijuana use are changing: a survey in 2006 found that 50 percent of U.S. adults thought marijuana was morally wrong, while a similar survey in 2013 found that only 32 percent of U.S. adults believed marijuana was morally wrong.
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