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Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Author Dr. Christopher Gleen Fichtner talks about "cannabinomics" and explains whether American is ready to legalize marijuana.

50 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, up from 46 percent last year, according to a new Gallup poll.

It was the first time in the survey that the number of people favoring legalization was higher than those opposed.

The support for legalized marijuana use has continued to climb since Gallup first began asking questions about it in 1969. Then, only 12 percent of Americans supported legalization, with 84 percent opposed.

Throughout the late 1970s into the 1990s support for legalization remained in the mid 20-percent range, with it passing 30 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2009.

The latest poll shows that support for legalized pot is highest in the West (55 percent), among liberals (69 percent), younger Americans (62 percent), and men (55 percent).

Dr. Christopher Glenn Fichtner, author of "Cannibanomics,'" appeared Monday on The Dylan Ratigan show, where he spoke about the potential benefits of legalizing marijuana. He endorsed the California Medical Association’s decision last week to call for legalization of the drug, but with regulations similar to alcohol and tobacco. 

"There are numerous products on the market that have risk," Fichtner said, citing alcohol as one example.

"It’s very hard to argue on a medical basis that herbal cannabis or marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol," he said. "The idea is that regulation offers the opportunity to improve the safety and reliability of access to specific products."

He also blames marijuana prohibition for "playing a major role in the initial criminalization, the initiation into the criminal justice system for a very large number of ordinary American citizens."

The Gallup survey was based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 6-9, 2011, with a random sample of 1,005 adults.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  A 2009 federal survey on drug use found  that 16.7 million Americans aged 12 or older had used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed, an increase over the rates reported in all years between 2002 and 2008.

Pot is legal for people with doctors’ recommendations in 16 states, though it remains illegal under federal law. Last week, the federal government vowed to crack down on dispensaries selling marijuana in California, where thousands of outlets have sprung up.

A Gallup survey last year showed that 70 percent of Americans favored making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana in order to reduce pain and suffering.

The top issue on the White House's "We the People" site is legalizing marijuana. Msnbc's Richard Lui talks with Roll Call's Ambreen Ali.