No radical shift in social values and public opinion occurs overnight. The acceptance and normalization of medical and recreational cannabis is obviously a gradual process.
Recently, several opinion polls and surveys have indicated, for the first time in modern history, that a majority of Americans favor some form of cannabis legalization. Some pundits predict today’s levels of majority support will make cannabis legalization a serious topic in the 2016 presidential election and force all leaders and politicians to address the issue.
Fox News, the latest organization to conduct a survey of marijuana opinions, has revealed that 51 percent of Americans favor legalization, while 44 percent oppose it. This is the first time that a majority of respondents to a Fox News survey indicated a favorable opinion of cannabis legalization.
The previous poll, conducted in January 2014, indicated a clean split, with 50 percent favoring legalization. In the 2013 Fox News poll, only 46 percent favored legal pot. Regardless of the exact polling numbers, the Fox News survey produced results similar to others: Americans are increasingly in favor of cannabis legalization, be it medical or recreational.
One of the best illustrations of this trend is the Gallop poll, which first began asking Americans about their opinions of pot legalization back in 1969. At the time, only 12 percent of those responding said they favored legal cannabis. By 1977, that number had jumped to 28 percent. It wasn’t until 2011 that 50 percent of those responding favored legal pot. Only two years later, in 2013, support was pegged at 58 percent — but this was probably a survey anomaly. In 2014, support was shown to be 51 percent (with a four percent margin of error).
The good news: A majority of Americans favor legalization of cannabis. But just barely. Which leaves plenty of people who are opposed to the kind herb. With such tight margins, something as simple as a greater turnout of elderly citizens at the voting booth — who are more likely to oppose marijuana legalization — could defeat ballot initiatives in several states in 2015 and 2016. As indicated by the recent Pew Research poll, the irony is that young people show vastly greater support for legalization than even middle aged citizens, yet are the least likely to vote.
Gender & Age Gaps
Several studies have revealed a pronounced gender gap, with men favoring legalization more than women. Quinnipiac University’s study in February revealed that 63 percent of men in Colorado support legalization, while only 53 percent of women in the state feel the same. The Quinnipiac study also showed that 82 percent of voters aged 18-34 favor legalization, while only 46 percent of those 55 or older do. Likewise, the recent CBS News poll indicated that a majority of men favor legalization, while women are split on the issue.
There’s no question that younger citizens are overwhelmingly in favor of cannabis legalization. Thus, the challenge becomes getting these young people to head to the polls in 2015, 2016, and beyond. With critical swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida all facing ballot initiatives in 2015 or 2016 — and very narrow margins favoring legalization — victory for marijuana proponents will be an issue of getting enough young and middle aged voters to turn out on election day.
The cultural and political acceptance of medical and recreational marijuana in “experimental” and progressive states like California, Oregon, and Colorado has been critical to the growing popularity of all forms of cannabis. However, traditionally conservative states like Ohio and Pennsylvania will be pivotal to pushing other, less progressive, states into legalization.
If initiatives in states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania fail, it will send a signal to Congress and Republicans that their opposition to legalization has real teeth and the fight isn’t over. If such states embrace marijuana legalization, it could be the sign to congressional leaders that legal pot is a reality in America’s heartland and not going away. If advocates can win over conservative states — Georgia recently legalized very limited medical marijuana for a brief list of diseases — it will be a sign that the tide is truly turning and federal-level legalization may be within grasp.
In October, a non-partisan think tank called Third Way conducted online polls in order to gauge American support for marijuana policy reform. Support for legalization is regularly painted in the media as widely divided between party lines, but a closer look at the numbers reveals a different story.
Third Way’s poll findings concluded that 50 percent of Americans support recreational marijuana while 47 percent oppose. These numbers are closely in line with Pew Research polls that peg support in the United States at 52 percent. What the team at Third Way chose to focus on however, was the number of voters who are still sitting on the fence.
There is an overwhelming amount of support for medical marijuana from both parties, with collective support at a whopping 78 percent. It is quite surprising to see such a broad range of support when medical marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but most Americans agree that the federal government has no business telling states what to do. In fact, 67 percent of voters said that Congress should pass legislation giving states protection from overarching federal reach. A small segment, 21 percent, of those opposing the legality of marijuana still believe that Congress should pass laws to protect states where marijuana is legal.
In the overall sample, Third Way determined that Republicans, moderates, white females, and people over the age of 50 make up the majority of those still “sitting on the fence.” These voters will not be easily persuaded to go either way, but are perhaps the most important in terms of moving forward with marijuana policy reform. As we have seen in efforts like the Yes On 91 campaign in Oregon, these voters can be reached, educated and brought to the polls.
The messaging that will sway the opinions of the “marijuana middle” is still unclear, and it seems that there is no one-size-fits-all rhetoric. Messaging that illustrates America’s failed drug war and explains the compassionate use of marijuana for cancer patients seem to be front-runners, but this will not convince everyone that marijuana will work in their community. What is clear, is that this small group of individuals (the soccer moms and 50+ demographic) will need some convincing before they vote in favor of marijuana policy reform. Education and tight regulation of proposed legislation will be critical if proponents of policy reform want victories in 2016.
Photo Credit: gnarburger
Last Friday Pew Research published 6 facts about the changing tides of public opinion on marijuana. Pew Research used recent data along with historical data from Gallop Polls and General Social Survey to put together some interesting graphical representations of society’s changing attitude.
1. Most Americans Support Legalization
The first time the marijuana question was given on a Gallup Poll was back in 1969. At the time, support was at just 12%. The times have certainly changed since 1969 and now a whopping 52% of Americans support legalization.
2. Support Varies With Age
With 45% of of Americans still opposing legalization, it’s clear that some groups are holding on to their opposing views. Americans aged 69 to 86 for instance, only show about 27% in favor of legalization. There is a clear generational divide between the supporters and the opposition.Baby Boomers are the oldest generation to support legalization and only by a slim margin.
3. Keep It At Home
Although the trend seems to be in favor of legalization, it seems that most folks still want nothing to do with it. That means: if you smoke do it at home or at minimum keep it away from me. The states who are experiencing legalization are very familiar with this sentiment already. Colorado and Washington both have laws in place to keep smoking off the streets and for the most part, private.
4. Half of Americans have smoked pot.
That’s right half. The correlation between this figure and the number that support legalization shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you also consider that 69% of Americans believe that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana.
5. The Lay Of The Land
While these numbers might look encouraging to legalization proponents, this map doesn’t tell the same story. Only two states have implemented legalization with two more currently on the ballots. Twenty three states allow for some form of medical marijuana and sixteen have decriminalized the plant.
The numbers speak for themselves and this November marks yet another opportunity for several states to join the legalization front. If the research is any indication of the future, legalization is indeed inevitable and soon the policies will represent the people of this country a bit more accurately.
Via: Pew Research