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.
Marijuana, specifically medical cannabis, has been getting plenty of press lately. CNN recently aired Weed 3, the third installment in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s marijuana documentary series. In it, Gupta focused on the medical benefits of cannabis, specifically to treat veterans with PTSD. The show also covered the tremendous bureaucratic hurdles that prevent effective marijuana research.
The documentary, an objective and moderate survey of current marijuana research studies and the politics behind legal pot, has been viewed by millions, serving as a powerful educational tool. Gupta, known for his former opposition to medical cannabis, is now one of its most ardent supporters.
Progress Meets Republican Defiance
Despite educational documentaries like Weed 3, medical cannabis laws in 24 states, and a middle America that is waking to the reality of marijuana efficacy, powerful Luddites — typically in the form of Republican senators and governors — still wield power and influence. Within the past week, three prominent conservative politicians, all of whom are mulling the office of president, have gone public with their opposition to marijuana legalization at any level — medicinal or recreational.
Earlier this week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie said during an interview that, if president, he would enforce federal law in all states that currently permit medical or recreational use of cannabis. In other words, Christie would openly oppose the will of the voters in any state in the nation that went counter to federal law and legalized any type of cannabis use.
Rubio Echoes Christie
Adding to this conservative dialog is Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida who, like Christie, is rumored to be contemplating a presidential run in 2016. While being interviewed by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Rubio expressed his respect for states crafting their own laws, but ultimately said that federal law should trump the efforts of renegade states to legalize marijuana. Rubio told Hewitt during his interview:
“I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well….”
“I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal.”
Kasich will Oppose ResponsibleOhio
Finally, another 2016 Republican presidential nominee hopeful, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, also spoke out on Hewitt’s show about his stance on marijuana legalization. Kasich said he is “totally opposed” to legalization, but also said he’s not sure that, as president, he would oppose states like Colorado and Washington that have imposed legalization that goes counter to federal law.
Kasich turns out to be the most moderate when it comes to cannabis legalization among these three possible Republican presidential candidates. While he said, if president, he wouldn’t interfere with states that choose to legalize, he did say that he is officially opposed to any legalization effort in his own state — a thinly veiled reference to ResponsibleOhio and its 2015 ballot initiative to legalize both recreational and medical cannabis in the Buckeye State.
Despite his prediction that, as president, he’d allow states like Colorado and Alaska to legalize cannabis within their own borders, Kasich compared the dangers of cannabis to heroin, proving his ignorance of medical efficacy issues. For those in Ohio who are excited about the prospects of legal medical and recreational cannabis, it should be remembered that Ohio’s efforts to legalize will be opposed not only by Kasich and most of the Ohio legislature, but also by a variety of conservative factions within government, business, and organized religion.
Possible Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, is once again in the spotlight for his recent comments about marijuana legalization — and what he’d do if he were president.
During an interview on the Hugh Hewitt show, Christie very vocally opposed legalization of any kind, stressing how we would, as president, not allow federal law to be so flagrantly violated.
Christie went on to label cannabis a problematic drug with addiction issues. He explained during the interview,
“Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country. And we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement.”
“Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”
During the April 20 episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart responded by calling Christie the “one guy who’s got to be a total narc.” Stewart pointed out that it was Christie who legalized internet gambling in New Jersey, something known for being addictive and typically illegal under federal law. But, as Stewart added,
“Well, there is a difference, though, to be fair. If you smoke too much pot, no one comes to break your fu**ing knees.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll revealed that the majority of voters in three key swing states — Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — support the legalization of marijuana. Since 1960, no candidate has won the presidential election without taking at least two of these three states. For this reason, it has been predicted that a 2016 candidate’s stance on cannabis will be an important factor.
Christie has remained consistent in his dislike for cannabis thus far, but it will be interesting to see if his stance changes as he ramps up for 2016.
photo credit: reason.com