LOS ANGELES (AP) — Most Americans still oppose legalizing marijuana but larger majorities believe pot has medical benefits and the government should allow its use for that purpose, according to an Associated Press-CNBC poll released Tuesday.
Respondents were skeptical that crime would spike if marijuana is decriminalized or that it would lead more people to harder drugs like heroin or cocaine. There also was a nearly even split on whether government spends too much or the right amount enforcing marijuana laws. Almost no one thinks too little is spent.
Marijuana use — medically and recreationally — is getting more attention in the political arena. California voters will decide in November whether to legalize the drug, and South Dakota will vote this fall on whether to allow medical uses. California and 13 other states already permit such use.
The balloting comes against the backdrop of the Obama administration saying it won't target marijuana dispensaries if they comply with state laws, a departure from the policy of the Bush administration, which sought to more stringently enforce the federal ban on marijuana use for any purpose.
In the poll, only 33 percent favor legalization while 55 percent oppose it. People under 30 were the only age group favoring legalization (54 percent) and opposition increased with age, topping out at 73 percent of those 65 and older. Opposition also was prevalent among women, Republicans and those in rural and suburban areas.
Some opponents worried legalization would lead to reefer madness.
"I think it would be chaos if it was legalized," said Shirley Williams, a 75-year-old retired English teacher from Quincy, Ill. "People would get in trouble and use marijuana as an excuse."
Those like Jeff Boggs, 25, of Visalia, Calif., who support legalization said the dangers associated with the drug have been overstated.
"People are scared about things they don't know about," said Boggs, who is married and works for an auto damage appraisal company.