Fifty-three percent of Americans say that the “use of marijuana should be legal,” according to nationwide survey data published today by the Pew Research Center.
“Support for marijuana legalization is rapidly outpacing opposition,” pollsters opined, acknowledging that Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana has risen some 10 percentage points over the past five years. Forty-four percent of respondents oppose legalization in the 2015 poll and three percent are undecided.
The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys showing majority support for legalizing and regulating marijuana.
Millennials (68 percent) are most likely to support legalization while most of those age 70 or older do not (29 percent). Most Republicans (39 percent) and Hispanics (40 percent) also remain opposed to legalizing marijuana.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) oppose the use of marijuana in public. By contrast, most respondents (57 percent) said that they would not be bothered if a “business selling marijuana” opened in their neighborhood.
Voters in Wichita Kansas approved a municipal measure yesterday that seeks to reduce first-time marijuana possession penalties within the city.
Fifty four percent of local voters approved the initiative, which reduces penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses (up to one ounce) to a civil infraction punishable by a $50.00 fine. Under state law, marijuana possession is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Despite majority support for the measure, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt has called the language unlawful and has threatened to sue the city if the provision goes into effect. The city is seeking a declaratory judgment from the courts in regard to whether they can move forward with enacting the new, voter-approved law.
The question was intriguing, and caused me to revisit in my mind the areas of public policy in which marijuana smokers continue to be treated unfairly, even in states that have legalized marijuana, and to consider why these problems remain so difficult for us to correct.
I have discussed in previous columns the continuing problems we face as smokers dealing with employment discrimination, child custody and related issues, and charges of driving under the influence of marijuana. Simply put, marijuana smokers continue to be treated as people who, because of their marijuana smoking, can be fired from their job without the slightest indication they have ever gone to work in an impaired condition; continue to be presumed by the state child welfare agencies to be unfit parents, without any evidence to suggest that conclusion; and continue to face DUID charges without any showing of driving while impaired.
Most Americans are decent, fair-minded people who would generally want to treat their fellow citizens in a fair manner, just as they would want to be treated. But because of the impact of decades of “reefer madness” propaganda and widespread misinformation about marijuana and marijuana smokers, once the factor of marijuana smoking enters the equation, these same Americans are largely willing to allow – or even encourage – policies that needlessly and unfairly harm the families, careers and lives of people who are good, hard-working individuals who happen to enjoy marijuana smoking when they relax in the evening, just as tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine when they relax in the evening.
Two out of Three Americans Have an Unfavorable Impression of Marijuana Smokers
This is true despite the fact that a majority of the American public now support full legalization. They have concluded that prohibition is a failed public policy that causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself; but they are certainly not pro-marijuana. This is an important distinction. These citizens were dubbed the “marijuana middle” by the Third Way, a Washington, DC think tank that recently released polling data showing, somewhat shockingly, that while a majority of the country now favor full legalization, 64 percent of those same people have a negative impression of recreational marijuana smokers!
They believe that those of us who smoke marijuana are doing something wrong, and harmful, regardless of the legal status of marijuana. Thus in every policy area that arises, including especially employment, child custody and driving, they continue to presume the worst-case scenario, and, in their minds, to “err on the side of caution” to protect the non-smoking public from the perceived dangers of marijuana smoking and marijuana smokers.
This is largely the result of the “stupid stoner” stereotypes that too many Americans continue to embrace for recreational users. While many of us who smoke have learned to laugh at those stereotypes when they appear in the popular culture, apparently too many of our fellow citizens fail to see the humor, and take them seriously. They see us as slackers who fail to live-up to our potential, and whose primary interest in life is getting stoned. And until we correct this misimpression, it will be impossible to put in place policies that treat responsible marijuana smokers fairly.
And that brings me back to the question I was asked regarding what the new generation of legalization advocates could do to leave their mark on the legalization movement. My answer is that the latest generation of advocates must come out of the closet in far greater numbers – to stand-up tall and proudly announce that you are a responsible marijuana smoker, as well as a good, productive citizen.
It is only by demonstrating that marijuana smokers are hard-working, middle class individuals who raise families, pay taxes and contribute in a positive manner to our communities, that we can finally overcome those negative stereotypes that persist. And until we overcome those stereotypes, we cannot achieve full equality with our fellow citizens. We will continue to be treated unfairly both legally and culturally.
In earlier decades, it took real courage to acknowledge your use of marijuana, as one might find yourself shunted by friends or colleagues, or even worse, targeted by law enforcement. And even today, the Third Way polling results clearly demonstrate there remains a stigma to marijuana smoking, and we must overcome that stigma if we are to avoid these unfair policies, even after legalization.
It is the younger generation of smokers who must face this final challenge. We have, after decades of effort, begun the long process of redefining the responsible use of marijuana as a legal activity. Over the next several years, we should succeed in ending the practice of arresting marijuana smokers all throughout the country.
But we will continue to be treated unfairly until we overcome this persistent cultural bias. So long as 65% of the public have an unfavorable view of those of us who smoke, we simply cannot achieve full equality. To do that we must convince the majority of the non-smokers that marijuana smokers are just average Americans – good people –who just happen to enjoy smoking marijuana. We need to move the “marijuana middle” to a place where they are emotionally more comfortable with those of us who smoke. This is a necessary cultural shift.
That is the challenge for our younger colleagues in the legalization movement.
The majority of voters in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania support permitting adults to possess marijuana legally, and super-majorities in all three states endorse allowing doctors to recommend cannabis therapy, according to survey data published today by Quinnipiac University.
Fifty-five percent of Florida voters say that they support allowing adults “to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.” (Forty-two percent oppose the idea.) In Ohio, voters back legalization by a margin of 52 percent to 44 percent. In Pennsylvania, 51 percent of voters favor legalizing marijuana versus 45 percent who oppose doing so.
Voters sentiment in favor of legalizing the plant’s availability for therapeutic purposes is even stronger. Pollsters reported that voters in all three states back medical marijuana legalization by margins of five to one: 84 percent to 14 percent in Florida, 84 percent to 15 percent in Ohio, and 88 percent to 10 percent in Pennsylvania.
Legislation seeking to regulate the plant’s use and retail sale is pending in both Florida and Pennsylvania, though to date, lawmakers have yet to hold hearings on either bill. Legislation to permit regulatory access to medical cannabis is also pending in both states.
The percentage in favor of legalization is the highest level of support ever recorded in the statewide poll.
African Americans (69 percent), Whites (64 percent), Democrats (63 percent), and Independents (57 percent) were most likely to express support for legalizing the plant’s use while Republicans (44 percent), Latinos (42 percent), and Asians (39 percent) were most likely to oppose the policy change.
Among those respondents who acknowledges having tried cannabis, 74 percent supported legalization. Among respondents who had never tried cannabis, 63 percent favored keeping it illegal.
The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percent.
California is one of several states in 2016 where the issue of regulating marijuana is expected to be decided by ballot measure. The issue is also anticipated to be before voters next November in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Nevada.
In 2010, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that sought to permit the personal cultivation and commercial sale of cannabis by a vote of 46.5 percent to 53.5 percent.