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WASHINGTON — A growing majority of Americans support the legalization of recreational marijuana, though divides continue to exist along party lines, according to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
In a survey conducted at the beginning of a year in which several states are expected to vote on marijuana legalization, 60 percent of respondents supported allowing adults to buy marijuana for personal use. When NBC News and The Wall Street Journal asked the same question in 2014, that number was 55 percent.
A broad majority of Democrats — 73 percent — supported legalization, as well as 64 percent of independents. By contrast, only 43 percent of Republican respondents said they supported legalization. Among voters who supported President Donald Trump in 2016, the number was even lower, at 37 percent.
Age made a significant difference in the likelihood that respondents would support legalization, with support dropping as the age of respondents rose. Seventy-three percent of respondents aged 18-34 supported legalization, compared to 67 percent of those aged 35-49, and 54 percent aged 50-64. But among those 65 or older, only a minority supported legalization, at 38 percent.
While a majority of both men and women supported legalization, the data also showed an overall gender gap. Sixty-four percent of men supported legalization, while 57 percent of women were in favor. That difference was mostly evident, however, among older Americans. Among men and women under 50, the numbers were fairly even at 71 and 70 percent, respectively.
As support for legalization has increased, Americans have continued to view marijuana as relatively safe when compared with alcohol, tobacco and sugar. In 2014, 8 percent of respondents to the poll ranked marijuana as the most dangerous substance in the group, a share which held about steady at 9 percent in the latest survey.
In this election year, a number of groups in states from Michigan to Missouri are looking to put marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot. State legislators have also begun introducing bills after Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature rather than through a ballot initiative.
The NBC/WSJ poll of 900 adults (nearly half reached by cellphone) was conducted Jan. 13-17 and has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.