From “Just Say No” to “I Didn’t Inhale” to We Have “Bigger Fish to Fry”: The President, The Media, and Attitudes Toward Marijuana Legalization

Richard J. Stringer, Kennesaw State University
Scott R. Maggard, Old Dominion University


Public opinion concerning marijuana legalization has varied greatly over time. While prior research suggests presidential drug rhetoric is related to public opinions on drugs, the relationship between the sitting president and attitudes specifically toward marijuana has not been explored. This study utilized data from the General Social Survey and the American Presidency Project to examine the relationship between the president and Americans’ attitudes toward marijuana legalization from 1975 through 2016. Findings indicate that confidence in the executive branch, fear of crime, and presidential drug rhetoric predict attitudes toward legalization despite controls for other factors such as estimated levels of marijuana use and arrests. These findings are discussed in the context of prior research that suggests presidential rhetoric, drug enforcement, and fear of crime may be related to American attitudes toward marijuana legalization.