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2016: Americans Are Cool With Mary and Jane Being Legal

Same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization are two social movements that have gained tremendous support over the last few decades. In fact, if you look at the progress both policy issues have made recently, you would think the two are related.

A study, “Should Mary and Jane Be Legal?,” published earlier this month in Public Opinion Quarterly, examines changes in attitudes toward both same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization from 1988 to 2014. The results, although not shocking, reveal that Americans may be more tolerant and libertarian than we realize.

Landon Schnabel and Eric Sevell, the Indiana University researchers who authored the report, discovered that “support for marijuana legalization more than doubled from 1988 (17.7 percent) to 2006 (38.4 percent). Support for same-sex marriage legalization almost tripled from 1988 (12.1 percent) to 2006 (35.6 percent). In 2012, slightly more than half of all Americans supported marijuana legalization (50.3 percent) and same-sex marriage legalization (50.6 percent). By 2014, almost three out of every five Americans supported marijuana legalization (57.4 percent) and marriage legalization (57.8 percent).”

The researchers are not certain as to why this is happening, but they offer this hypothesis: “Both marijuana and same-sex marriage legalization are related to individual liberty and what the government should and should not regulate, and therefore our findings may reflect a broader shift in the public’s support for maximizing individual freedom—or autonomy—and not regulating behavior that does not affect others. Our findings speak to the possibility of a wider liberalization (or maybe just libertarianization) of American attitudes that should be examined in future research.

“In 1988, most Americans wanted the government to regulate these issues, but in 2014 Americans want people to be able to choose for themselves whether these behaviors are right for them. … Policy legitimation justify and reinforce the redefinition of marijuana and same-sex marriage from behaviors to regulate to issues of individual autonomy that, in the views of many, do not have much effect beyond the individual.”

As we close out 2o16 and enter into a new year, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.


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