New data from U.S. polling firm Gallup shows nearly half of Americans -- a record number -- are in support of legalizing and taxing marijuana for recreational use by adults.

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The poll clearly illustrates a generational and political divide on the issue, with 78 percent of self-described liberals saying they would like to see the drug legalized and 72 percent of self-described conservatives being opposed. Gallup also found that 50 percent of Americans under 50-years-old are in favor of legalization, but just 28 percent of seniors agree.

Perhaps the most important demographic to advocates of legalization are the moderate voters, among whom 51 percent now support ending prohibition.

"The new findings come as the U.S. Justice Department has reportedly decided to loosen its enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws by not pursuing individuals who buy or sell small amounts of the drug in conformity with their own states' medical marijuana laws," Gallup noted. "This seems likely to meet with U.S. public approval, as previous Gallup polling has found Americans generally sympathetic to legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. In 2003, 75% of Americans favored allowing doctors to legally prescribe marijuana to patients in order to reduce pain and suffering.

"Fourteen states allow some use of marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington," the Associated Press reported on Monday.

Another of the poll's revelations is that among self-described Democrats, a majority in favor of legalization has emerged, with 54 percent supporting such a move and 45 percent opposed. Among self-described Republicans, the question is not even a contest: 28 percent are in favor, while 70 percent are opposed.

Gallup tracking data also showed that from 2006-2009, support for legalization grew more than at almost any time since the drug was banned, trending upward from 36 percent to 44 percent in just three years. Support for legalization grew most among women, up 12 percent since 2005; Democrats, up 13 percent since 2005; Liberals, up 15 percent since 2005; and throughout the western states, up 13 percent since 2005.

To compile the statistics, Gallup talked to 1,013 Americans nation-wide and assessed a margin of error at ±4 percent.

RELATED: Two California airports have policy allowing passengers to fly with pot