Why age may hold the key to marijuana legalization in California

March 10, 2014

California’s Democrats this weekend added marijuana legalization to their party platform.

Unfortunately for fans of legal weed, it doesn’t seem likely to find a vehicle in the near future, but all it may take is for the population to age.

Two attempts to get the measure on the ballot this year were recently aborted: one because proponents failed to collect enough signatures and the other because they wanted to wait until 2016 to get it right rather than fast, they said. But before they gave up, the Field Poll was able to conduct a survey of Californians about their stance on legalization. Support won out by a sizable margin, with 56 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed. There were big, unsurprising ideological divides as well: Democrats and strong liberals were far more in favor of legalization than Republicans and strong conservatives.

But the results of that December survey, pasted below, show something else, too: Outside of ideology, legalization is winning by big margins among the highly educated, single people and, perhaps most importantly, younger registered voters.

Marital status showed the biggest gap, but that could very well be due to age. (Census data show the obvious: You’re less likely to be single as you age and more likely to be — or have been — married.) Education showed the next widest gap — just 39 percent of those without a college degree support legalization. But that jumps to 65 percent of Californians with post-graduate degrees.

The age gap is nearly as wide, with only 47 percent of seniors supporting legalization compared to 64 percent of those ages 18 to 49. That might not only explain why the state’s Democrats disagree with Gov. Jerry Brown — who turns 76 next month — but also why legalization may not be too far off. The same is true in other states, too, as we pointed out last week. A majority already supports legalization in California, and the youngest factions, where support is broadest, will eventually overtake less-favorable seniors.

(Field Poll)
(Field Poll)
Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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