The country’s evolved attitudes toward marijuana has brought a majority of Americans to the conclusion that legalization advocates have preached for decades: alcohol is more dangerous than pot.

That is the takeaway of new survey data published recently in the journal Addictive Behavior, which showed that a majority of United States consumers believe marijuana to bring less potential for abuse than both alcohol and prescription drugs. 

“A majority of the public perceives THC and marijuana as grouped together with prescription medications rather than with illicit substances and as having more medical value and less abuse potential than alcohol,” the researchers wrote. 

They contended that the survey’s results “provide evidence that U.S. consumers would not classify any of the Cannabis derivatives as Schedule I substances,” marijuana’s classification on the Controlled Substances Act, the law that enshrines pot’s status as an illegal substance on the federal level.

“It follows that agencies such as the DEA and FDA need to understand public perceptions and uses of these substances,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “This is the first study, to our knowledge, to identify perceptions of Cannabis derivatives among U.S. consumers at the intersection of medical use and potential for abuse. These results highlight the need for more medical research as public acceptance and interest in Cannabis is unlikely to decrease.”

They continued: “The results identify medical uses for cannabinoids among U.S. consumers. They perceive CBD and hemp as medicinal and as having little potential for abuse, making them an attractive replacement for addictive pain relievers. It is important to note that respondents considered hemp as less medically valuable than CBDs, which are derived from hemp. These results suggest that many consumers are not aware of the association between them. Among the substances studied that have both medical uses and potential for abuse… THC and marijuana are the only ones that can be purchased in some U.S. states without a prescription. Overall, the public perceives THC and marijuana as having some potential for abuse but not as much as several prescription medications. That a majority view THC and marijuana as having less potential for abuse than alcohol likely explains why there is wide support for legalization of recreational use.”

Results Consistent With Evolving Laws

Indeed, as the researchers noted in the conclusion, the findings dovetail with the wave of legalization in the U.S. over the last decade, as a host of states have essentially rebuked marijuana’s status on the federal level by passing their own laws legalizing recreational use for adults. Those legalization measures have transcended the partisan lines that have traditionally been associated with the debate, as red and blue states alike have moved to end pot prohibition. In the 2020 election, four states passed measures legalizing recreational marijuana use, including two states—South Dakota and Montana—that were easily carried by President Donald Trump.

In response to the survey findings, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano likened the federal government’s anti-pot stance to a “‘Flat Earth’ position.” 

“It is time for Congress to jettison this intellectually dishonest position as well and remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act in a manner similar to alcohol—thereby ending the existing state/federal conflict and permitting state governments, not the federal government, to be the primary arbiters of cannabis policy,” Armentano said in a statement.