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Poll finds majority in U.S. support treating instead of jailing drug users

Pew Research Center finds more than half of people in the U.S. now favor marijuana legalization.

By Frances Burns
Poll finds majority in U.S. support treating instead of jailing drug users
Surrounded by a swarm of media in a small retail marijuana sales room, the first official recreational marijuana purchaser Sean Azzariti of Boston reaches for his first marijuana selection handed over by store owner Toni Fox at the 3D Cannabis Center in Denver on January 1, 2014. Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana use in 2012 with the first retail stores for recreational use opening this morning at 8 A.M.. UPI/Gary C. Caskey | License Photo

Two-thirds of U.S. residents believe the emphasis should be on treatment, not jail, for non-violent drug users, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The Pew Research Center said that 76 percent of respondents, including 69 percent of Republicans, said jail should not be the penalty for marijuana possession. However, the survey also found a shift in attitudes toward drugs like heroin and cocaine, with only 26 percent saying the government should imprison them while 67 percent want an emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation.

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The poll found that U.S. residents remain concerned about drug use, with 32 percent calling it a crisis and 55 percent a serious problem. Pew said that concern has remained about the same for 20 years.

But a majority say the measures approved in 40 states to reduce drug penalties and decriminalize marijuana use are beneficial.

Pew also found that attitudes towards marijuana legalization have reversed in four years. In 2009, 52 percent said the drug should remain illegal and 41 percent supported legalization, while 54 percent now say it should be legal and 42 percent say it should remain illegal.

Pew found 44 percent believe medical marijuana should be legal, 39 percent support legalizing recreational use, and 16 percent want a total ban.

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An overwhelming majority said they think alcohol is more dangerous.

Pew surveyed 1,821 adults between Feb. 14 and Feb. 23.

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