If you think police officers in the U.S. are adamantly opposed to marijuana, think again. A recent Pew Research Center national survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform collected the opinions of 7,917 law enforcement officers across the country. The findings might surprise you. 

Image source: Getty Images.

Survey says

It's clear from the Pew survey that law enforcement professionals generally aren't staunch opponents of marijuana use. Just over two-thirds of police officers (68%) think U.S. marijuana laws should be relaxed.

The flip side of that, though, is that 30% of law enforcement officers still believe marijuana should be completely illegal. Still, that's more than a two-to-one advantage for a somewhat pro-marijuana perspective among police in the U.S.

Roughly 32% of police officers think marijuana should be legalized for both medical and personal use. Even more -- 37% -- believe the drug should be allowed for medical use only.

Younger police officers are more in favor of changing marijuana laws than their older peers. Around 37% of officers aged 34 or under said marijuana should be legal for both medical and personal use. That's significantly higher than the 27% of law enforcement professionals ages 50 through 60 who thought marijuana should be legal in both cases. 

By comparison

These findings are probably surprising to many, and they indicate growing support for more lenient marijuana laws among law enforcement. However, police officers remain much less enthusiastic about the use of marijuana than the general public.

While 32% of police favor legalization of marijuana for personal and medical, 49% of the American public supports legalization of the drug in both cases. Among Americans under age 45, a whopping 63% favor marijuana legalization for both personal and medical use. 

Data source: Pew Research Center. Chart by author.

There was one quite interesting gap between police and the public. More law enforcement officers think that marijuana should be allowed for medical use than believe the drug should be OK for personal and medical use. However, among the general public, more people think marijuana should be legalized for both uses (the 49% mentioned above) than think the drug should be allowed only for medical use (35%).

Only 15% of all Americans think marijuana should be totally outlawed. That's half the number with the same viewpoint among law enforcement officers. 

What does the survey mean?

It's probably a mistake to read too much into the Pew Research Center survey. Just because law enforcement officers increasingly support the relaxation of marijuana laws doesn't mean the states that still don't allow marijuana use will change their laws.

Groups opposed to marijuana law reform will still find plenty of support for their positions among the law enforcement community. These groups will also probably be able to line up more senior officers, such as police chiefs and sheriffs, because these higher-ranking men and women are more likely to be in the older demographics that tend to express less support for marijuana legalization.

Still, though, if more law enforcement professionals come out in favor of legal marijuana, it should help the groups attempting to win legalization of the drug. That could mean the incredible run for marijuana stocks experienced in 2016 could extend into this year and beyond.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.