Only 33% of respondents in a new Associated Press/CNBC poll support legalizing marijuana, with a solid majority (55%) opposing it. Decriminalization fared similarly poorly, garnering only 34%, while support for medical marijuana was at 60%.
But the AP/CNBC is a low-end outlier compared to other recent national polls on marijuana legalization and/or decriminalization, finding levels of support about 10 points less than other polls conducted in the past year or so. More in line with other recent polls was a CBS News poll released Tuesday that had legalization support at 44%.
One reason for the low levels of support in the AP/CBC poll may lie in the apparent over-representation of the country's most conservative regions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were from the South and 22% from the Midwest, while only 18% were from the Northeast and 23% from the West.
Unfortunately, the AP/CNBC poll does not provide a breakdown of support for legalization or decriminalization by region. That information could have provided especially useful insight on support for legalization on the West Coast, where a legalization initiative will be on the ballot in California and legalization initiative signature-gathering campaigns are underway in Oregon and Washington.
But the CBS poll does provide a regional breakdown, and the results have to be encouraging for reformers on the West Coast. That poll found majority support (55%) for legalization in the West, the only region where legalization has a majority. Support was at 44% in the Northeast, 40% in the South, and 36% in the Midwest.
The AP/CNBC poll also suggests that American attitudes toward marijuana legalization are a bit incoherent. While only 33% supported legalization and 34% supported decriminalization, 56% thought marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol (44%) or less strictly than alcohol (12%). Alcohol, of course, is a legal, regulated substance.
Among the 55% of people who said they oppose marijuana legalization in the AP/CNBC poll, 14% said they would support it if state governments could tax the proceeds and use the revenues to fund programs. That would bring support for legalization up to the 40-41% range, more in line with other recent polls, but it will not hearten legalization campaigners hoping that economic arguments will significantly increase support for reforms.
A plurality of respondents to the AP/CNBC poll (46%) did not believe that legalization would have any impact on the economy, although 32% thought it would a positive impact. One in five (21%) thought legalization would have a negative impact on the economy. Still, a solid majority (62%) were up for taxing marijuana if it were legal.
Respondents were evenly divided on the impact that legalization would have on crime. One-third thought crime would increase, one-third thought crime would decrease, and one-third thought there would be no change in crime rates. Respondents were also divided on whether the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition was worth it. Forty-eight per cent said yes and 45% said no.
Some of the opposition to legalization in the AP/CNBC poll stems from health concerns and fears that marijuana use will lead to hard drug use. A plurality of people (46%) thought legalization would harm the overall health of the country, while 39% thought it would have no effect and 13% thought it would improve health. And while 49% of respondents thought that legalizing marijuana would have no affect on hard drug use levels, a sizeable minority (39%) still adheres to the discredited "gateway theory" that smoking pot pushes people to try harder, more dangerous drugs.
The AP/CNBC poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010 via phone interviews with 1,001 respondents and has a margin-of-error factor of plus/minus 4.3%. The CBS News poll was conducted March 29-April 1 via phone interviews with 858 respondents. It has a margin of error factor of plus/minus 3%. Both polls were conducted using both landline and cell phone numbers.