WASHINGTON - Just five months after Washington state and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the movement has gained more momentum.
A new report released Thursday found that 52 percent of Americans say it should not be illegal to smoke the drug, with 45 percent saying it should.
And 60 percent say that Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. government should not enforce federal drug laws in any state that has voted to legalize pot.
The Pew Research Center poll found a strong consensus among people of all political persuasions for the federal government not to intervene: 64 percent of independents, 59 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.
The center said the results mark the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue that legalized marijuana won majority support.
More Americans are experimenting with marijuana, too, the poll found.
Forty-eight percent said they had smoked the drug, compared with just 38 percent a decade ago. And the poll found a sharp decline in the percentage of Americans who now believe that marijuana is a "gateway" drug that leads users to try harder drugs.
Even though 50 percent of all baby boomers now back legalized marijuana, the pollsters said, it's mainly younger Americans propelling the drive to legalize the drug, with 65 percent of adults born since 1980 backing the idea. That compares with just 36 percent for the 18-32 age group five years ago.
The poll found that support for legalizing marijuana rose by 11 points among all age groups since 2010.
Reacting to Thursday's Pew poll, Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said marijuana prohibition "is a policy without a rational basis and without public support."
"These results do not just represent a tipping point," he said. With support for legalization among people younger than 50 at close to 60 percent, he said, "this is more like the tip of the iceberg. Elected officials across the country need to listen to the people."
Washington state and Colorado officials are proceeding with plans to open recreational dispensaries later this year, but both are awaiting a formal response from Holder on whether the federal government will try to stop them.
Holder is under fierce pressure from both sides, with marijuana opponents urging him to uphold federal statutes and block the states from proceeding, while proponents want the Obama administration to stay out of the way.
Holder has given no indication how he will rule. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee early last month that he would release an opinion soon, though he gave no specific time frame.