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Legal marijuana: Support soars to 58 percent, but local concerns remain (+video)

The percentage of Americans now supporting legal marijuana is up 10 points from just a year ago, according to Gallup. But people are still leery of legalizing the trafficking side of things, experts say.

A new Gallup poll reports that 58% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, while 39% oppose it.
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The Gallup polling organization is reporting an eye-popping shift of 10 points in American attitudes toward marijuana legalization in the past year alone, with even older citizens warming up to the idea of replacing government pot bans with state regulation and taxation.

But what some marijuana advocates are calling a major tipping point in favor of pot legalization may not fully reflect how Americans feel about potentially having pot shops in their neighborhoods, or about marijuana smoke wafting over backyard fences.

After polling 1,028 US adults, Gallup reported Tuesday that 58 percent of Americans now support full marijuana legalization – a major shift from the 48 percent who supported it when Washington State and Colorado voters legalized pot last November. And while Americans who are 65 and older still on the whole oppose legalization, Gallup reports a 16-point swing toward lawful pot in that demographic in the past three years. Clear majorities of younger Americans support legalization, Gallup found.

The poll underscores a pivotal time for a movement whose goals not long ago seemed impossible, given America’s strong evangelical streak and traditional support for the so-called war on drugs. Yet even in liberal Denver, local politicians are pushing back against the open smoking of marijuana, and smaller towns are declaring they have no interest in seeing pot shops opening anywhere close to schools or quaint neighborhoods.

“There’s always a danger to assigning too much significance to a 10-point shift in public attitudes,” says Robert Mikos, a law professor and marijuana policy expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. “If you read the wording of the [Gallup] question, it’s all about the use of marijuana, but what about distribution of marijuana? Should we legalize pot shops? At the local level, people are still leery of legalizing the trafficking side. There’s a lot less support for that stuff than simple possession.”

Nevertheless, the poll numbers are sure to further mobilize referendum activists across the United States, says Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. 

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