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Majority Favor Marijuana Legalization in California, Poll Finds

Support for marijuana legalization is above 50% among Californians, and even higher among likely voters, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll released Thursday. While other pollsters have reported majority support for legalization in the past, especially in the run-up to the failed 2010 Proposition 19 effort, Thursday's poll marks the first time PPIC has recorded majority support for legalization.

PPIC polling in September 2011 had support for legalization at 46%, and that figure dropped to 45% in a March 2012 PPIC poll. Now, the numbers have flipped.

The poll found support for marijuana legalization at 52% among all respondents and 60% among likely voters. Conversely, 45% of all respondents and 38% of likely voters opposed legalization, with undecideds accounting for only 2% to 3% of respondents.

Democrats (64%), independents (60%), and men (57%) are more likely than Republicans (45%) and women (47%) to favor legalization. About six in 10 whites (63%) and blacks (61%) are in favor, Asians are divided (48% legal, 45% not legal), and about six in 10 Latinos are opposed (62%). About half across age groups think marijuana use should be legal.

The question asked was "In general, do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?"

The question was asked of 1,703 Californians, including 1,429 registered voters, between September 10 and 17. Among those likely voters responding, 46% were Democrats, 31% Republicans, and 17% independents. That generally follows current voter registration statistics. The racial makeup of likely voters was 61% white, 15% Latino, 12% Asian and 8% black. The poll has a margin of error of between 3.7% and 4.5% depending on the subgroup polled.

The poll results are likely to encourage efforts by California activists to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot, even though many major drug reform players have cautioned that the state should wait for the higher voter turnout expected in the 2016 presidential election year. A divided activist community threw up several initiative proposals in 2012, but none of them managed to make the ballot.

One measure, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014, has already been cleared for circulation this year, and at least one more is in the works. Organizers face a daunting task, however; they need to gather more than half a million registered voter signatures, a process that typically requires at least a million-dollar investment. Whether the big money can be convinced that 2014 is both doable and winnable remains to be seen.

The poll also found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

CA
United States

Oklahomans Ready for Marijuana Law Reform, Poll Finds

Oklahoma NORML Friday released survey results from a Sooner Poll showing strong support for medical marijuana and majority support for marijuana decriminalization. The poll had support for medical marijuana at 71% and support for decriminalization at 57%. The poll did not ask about legalization.

The poll of registered voters was conducted between August 28 and September 9. The margin of error is +/- 4.9%.

If someone is going to be arrested for a marijuana offense, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they should be treated instead of jailed.

Under current Oklahoma law, possession of any amount can earn one up to a year in jail for a first offense and from two to 10 years for a second offense. Marijuana sales -- of any amount -- can earn a sentence of up to life in prison.

The state's largest cities were the most in favor of fixing the state's pot laws. In metro Oklahoma City and Tulsa, support for medical marijuana was higher than 75%, and support for decriminalization was at 67% in Tulsa and at 63% in Oklahoma City.

Even Oklahoma's notoriously conservative Republicans are ready for change. Support for decriminalization came from 53% of Republicans interviewed, lower than the 60% of Democrats and 65% of independents, but still a majority.

"I do hope that the polling results will help legislators feel more comfortable supporting marijuana reform," Oklahoma NORML leader Norma Sapp told the Oklahoma Observer. "I always encourage people to contact the legislators. I think a state wide lobby day will be called when the need comes."

Senator Constance Johnston (D-Oklahoma City), who has filed medical marijuana bills for several years now without managing to get a hearing, told the Observer the poll echoed what she had been hearing from constituents.

"I like the results. This is very telling. It confirms what we're being told across the state," Johnston said, adding that they could help ease legislators' worried minds. "The results make you wonder what these elected officials are afraid of," she said.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Majority Supports Marijuana Reform in Michigan

A poll released Friday finds a majority of Michiganders in favor of reforming the state's marijuana laws, and nearly half in favor of legalizing and regulating the herb. The poll, conducted by pollsters Epic-MRA for Michigan NORML, comes as the state's activists attempt to lay the groundwork for moving a decriminalization bill in the legislature or a possible legalization initiative.

Crosstabs for the poll are not yet available. Epic-MRA told the Chronicle Monday that while Michigan NORML had made some poll results available to the media, it had not yet given the pollster permission to post full results. The poll surveyed 600 likely voters last week and has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

The poll found near majority support (47%) for legalizing marijuana by taxing and regulating it like alcohol, with another 16% saying the favored decriminalization and 4% saying they wanted all criminal penalties for marijuana offenses repealed. Taken together, that's more than two-thirds (67%) of Michiganders in favor of relaxing the pot laws. Only one out of four respondents (26%) favored the pot prohibition status quo.

The results show a continuing shift in public sentiment toward legalizing the drug, said Bernie Porn, president of Epic-MRA.

"I think that people are changing their opinions about marijuana," Porn said. "There is a receptivity to legalization and the realization that you don't need to have law enforcement spending the kind of time that they devote to the crimes that people are convicted of because of current marijuana laws," he said.

Neil Yashinsky, executive director of Michigan NORML's Oakland County chapter, told the Detroit Free Press he was encouraged by the survey results.

"Eventually, the politicians will catch up with the people. They will reflect the values of their constituents" and pass a decriminalization effort, he said.

If they don't, there is always the initiative process. Voters in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Ypsilanti last November approved decriminalization or deprioritization initiatives. Similar local initiatives will be on the ballot this year in Ferndale and Lansing.

MI
United States

Sen. McCain: "Maybe We Should Legalize" Marijuana

At a town hall meeting in Tucson Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R) signaled that he could be receptive to legalizing marijuana. His comments came just a week after the Obama administration said it would not interfere with taxed and regulated marijuana distribution in Colorado and Washington, whose voters legalized it last November.

"Maybe we should legalize," McCain said, according to a tweet from Arizona Star columnist Tim Steller. "We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people."

The will of the people in Arizona certainly appears to be in favor of marijuana law reform. A May Behavior Research Center poll found that 56% favored legalization "of small amounts for personal use," with only 37% opposed. While strong majorities of independents (72%) and Democrats (61%) favored decriminalization, so did a sizeable minority (41%) of McCain's fellow Republicans.

That same poll also showed majority support for gay marriage, leading the Behavior Research Center to comment on the vagaries of shifting public opinion.

"It is perhaps ironic that as support for same-sex marriage and defelonization of marijuana have long been albatrosses which conservative candidates could hang around the necks of some of their moderate or liberal challengers, it now appears that hard opposition to gay marriage and perhaps even to marijuana liberalization could become issues moderates and liberals can use against their conservative opponents," the polling firm said.

And plans are afoot to put the issue before voters next year. Activists organized as Safer Arizona in June filed a constitutional amendment initiative with the secretary of state's office. Signature-gathering is underway, and organizers must come up with 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

A smart politician who wants to get reelected listens to the will of the people. Whatever one thinks of John McCain's views on various issues, the senator is no dummy.

Tucson, AZ
United States

Legalize/Decriminalize Marijuana, Canadians Say

The Canadian public strongly supports reforming the country's marijuana laws, according to a new Forum Research poll. The survey found that 69% either want to see marijuana legalized, taxed, and regulated or see the possession of small amounts decriminalized.

The poll comes just weeks after Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau called for legalization, bringing new life to the long-running debate on pot policy north of the border. It also comes just a week after Canadian police chiefs called for decriminalization, although they didn't want to use that word, instead preferring to say they wanted a "ticketing option."

Support for legalization was slightly higher (36%) than for decriminalization (34%), but the combined support for pot law reform was far ahead of support for the status quo (15%) or increasing marijuana penalties (13%). Only 3% were undecided.

Among political parties, support was strongest among self-described Liberals (76%), followed by New Democrats (72%), and even 61% of Conservatives. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has positioned itself as the party of cracking down on marijuana, but the ministers might want to check in with their base.

The poll also asked respondents whether Trudeau's recent admission that he had smoked pot while a Member of Parliament would affect their vote. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it did not matter, while one in five (21%) said they would be less likely to vote for him. Conversely, 14% said they would be more likely to vote for him.

"Justin Trudeau is ahead of the zeitgeist on this issue, and the government's disapproval of his position is a strength he can play to in the coming months. Decriminalization or legalization has majority support right across the country, even among Conservative voters, and there appears to be little downside to this issue for him," said Forum Research President Dr. Lorne Bozinoff.

Canada

Poll Finds Few Think We're Winning War on Drugs

Four decades after President Richard Nixon ushered in the modern war on drugs, fewer than one out of 20 Americans think it is being won, according to a new poll. A Rasmussen Reports poll released on Sunday found that only 4% of respondents believe that the US is "winning" the war on drugs. Some 82% said it is "losing."

"Americans continue to overwhelmingly believe that the so-called war on drugs is failing, but they are more divided on how much the United States should be spending on it," Rasmussen concluded.

While agreement that the drug war is a failure is at near consensus levels, the Rasmussen poll also revealed a public deeply divided over what to do about it. More than half (55%) think there are too many people in prison, and nearly as many (51%) agree with Attorney General Holder's call to reduce the prisoner load by reducing reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing. At the same time, 54% said illegal drug use is primarily a criminal justice problem, not a public health problem.

The poll also showed Americans split nearly evenly on marijuana legalization, with 44% approving of it and 42% disapproving. The numbers supporting legalization are lower than most recent polls, where in the past year support has consistently climbed above 50%, but still show more Americans supporting legalization than opposing it.

The survey was conducted Aug.12-13, and involved interviews with 1,000 American adults, and has a margin-of-error of plus/minus 3.1%.

Canada Liberal Party Leader Says Legalize Marijuana

Canada's opposition Liberal Party head Justin Trudeau has called for the legalization of marijuana, putting himself and his party on a collision course with the ruling Conservatives ahead of 2015 elections. Trudeau's stand also differentiates the Liberals from the New Democratic Party (NDP), which has been the progressive party on drug reform, but which only calls for decriminalization.

Justin Trudeau (wikimedia.org)
The Liberals adopted marijuana legalization as a platform plank in January 2012, but Trudeau had previously lagged behind the party, calling only for decrim.

Trudeau revived drug policy as an issue when, at a Kelowna, British Columbia, event Sunday, he spotted someone in the crowd holding a sign calling for decriminalization.

"I'll take that as a question," he volunteered. "I'm actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis, I'm in favor of legalizing it, tax and regulate," he said to applause. "It's one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids, because the current war on drugs, the current model, is not working."

In Vancouver on Thursday, Trudeau elaborated.

"Listen, marijuana is not a health food supplement, it's not great for you," he told reporters, but added that it was no worse for people than cigarettes or alcohol and he was now willing to go further than just decrim. "I have evolved in my own thinking," Trudeau said. "I was more hesitant to even decriminalize not so much as five years ago. But I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out and I realize that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do."

When Liberals controlled the national government at the beginning of this century, they moved to reform the marijuana laws. But the Liberals only favored a quasi-decriminalization, and they ended up not even being able to move that forward.

The Conservatives have held national power since 2006 and have ratcheted up penalties for some drug offenses, including some marijuana offenses. Responding to Trudeau's comments this week, the party said it was staying the prohibitionist course.

"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society, including violent crime. Our government has no interest in seeing any of these drugs legalized or made more easily available to youth," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The Conservatives' position on marijuana puts them out of step with most Canadians on the issue. An Angus-Reid poll last fall showed Canadian support for legalization at 57%, and other surveys have polled even higher.

Canada

New Jerseyans Ready to Decriminalize Marijuana, Poll Finds

As New Jersey legislators consider a marijuana decriminalization bill, a new poll suggests strong public support for such a move -- and more. The poll of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Drug Policy Alliance found that 61% favored decriminalization and nearly as many (59%) agreed with taxing, regulating, and legalizing marijuana.

"New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana," said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. "Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state."

The poll comes as the legislature is considering Senate Bill 1977, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams (slightly less than two ounces) of marijuana and make possession a civil violation carrying a fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The release of the poll could be designed to prod the legislature to act on marijuana reform. SB 1977 was filed more than a year ago and still has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. Another measure, Assembly Bill 1465, which would decriminalize up to 15 grams, actually passed the Assembly last June, only to languish in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since.

Under current New Jersey law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on a pot possession charges also creates a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver's license.

Marijuana possession prosecutions also disproportionately target the Garden State's black population. African-Americans are arrested for pot possession at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

"More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now. "

If legislators heed the popular will and pass the decriminalization bill, New Jersey will join 15 other states that have decriminalized pot possession in amounts ranging from half an ounce to three ounces.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Poll of DC Voters Finds Two-Thirds Support Marijuana Legalization

District of Columbia map
Activists planning possible Washington, DC, marijuana reform efforts got some good news this week. A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found that three-quarters of DC voters support decriminalizing marijuana possession, two-thirds (67%) think law enforcement resources focused on marijuana should be used elsewhere, and nearly two-thirds (63%) said they would support ballot measures similar to those in Colorado and Washington state, where voters legalized marijuana last November.

DC voters weren't just interested in lessening marijuana law enforcement. A solid majority (54%) said drug use should be treated as a public health issue and people should no longer be arrested and locked up for possession of a small amount of any drug for personal use.

DC-based activists have been meeting about plans to push pot law reforms. The first stop is the city council, but it the council balks, there are also contingency plans for a possible ballot initiative. In interviews earlier this year, activists said they were waiting for polling results before deciding on a course of action. Now they have them.

Adam Eidinger holding "Free Bryan Epis" sign at protest of then drug czar John Walters, 2002 (drugwar.com)
"As a 20-year DC resident, I know scores of people who have been humiliated with an arrest and have even spent time in jail for possessing small quantities of marijuana," said longtime District activist and spokesman for Dr. Bronner's Natural Soaps Adam Eidinger. "This new poll confirms that there is little support for laws that criminalize marijuana consumers in the District and they are due for repeal. We hope it inspires the Council to craft meaningful marijuana policy reform legislation, but in either case a change in the law appears to be inevitable."

"District voters, like most Americans, think it is time for a new, more sensible approach to marijuana policy," said Steve Fox of the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "People should not be subjected to life-altering criminal penalties simply for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Harsh criminal penalties should be reserved for serious criminals, and our law enforcement resources should be reserved for addressing serious crimes."

"DC voters clearly want to end the failed war on drugs," said Bill Piper, DC-based national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Decriminalizing marijuana is a no-brainer, but the Council should do more. There is an opportunity to make a clean break from the past and treat drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. More access to treatment and health services. No more putting people in jail."

The ball is in the DC City Council's court, but if elected representatives fail to act, the threat of direct democracy via the initiative process looms.

Washington, DC
United States

House Members File Bipartisan "Respect States' Marijuana Laws Act" [FEATURE]

A bi-partisan group of US representatives led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) Friday introduced legislation that would end the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have either legalized it or adopted medical marijuana laws. That would bring 18 medical marijuana states and two legalization states -- Colorado and Washington -- out from under the shadow of the Controlled Substances Act when it comes to marijuana law reform.

Dana Rohrabacher
The bill is H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. It was not yet available online as of the original press time, but is now.

"This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states' marijuana laws," said Rohrabacher. "It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don't want it to be criminal."

Joining Rohrabacher as cosponsors of the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK).

That brings to at least five the number of marijuana reform bills introduced in the 113th Congress, six if you count an industrial hemp bill. Three of those bills deal with medical marijuana, one with the ability of states to tax marijuana commerce, and one would end federal marijuana prohibition.

Reps. Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, and others also introduced that latter bill, House Bill 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, H.R. 499, which would set up a federal regulatory process -- similar to the one for alcohol -- for states that decide to legalize. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has said he will hold hearings to examine Colorado and Washington’s new marijuana laws and explore potential federal reforms.

Marijuana law reform efforts in the Congress are being propelled not only by the continuing spread of medical marijuana laws and the impressive victories in Colorado and Washington -- each state saw 55% of voters approve legalization -- but also by ever-mounting evidence that public opinion nationwide is swinging in favor of legalization, and against federal interference in states undertaking marijuana law reforms.

A Pew poll released earlier this month had support for marijuana legalization at 52%, the highest ever for a Pew poll and the first time a Pew poll showed majority support for legalization. Five other recent opinion polls have shown support for legalization hovering at the tipping point, with two of them just under 50%, one at 50%, one at 54%, and one at 57%.

That same Pew poll also found considerable skepticism about enforcing the marijuana laws, with 72% agreeing that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth" and 60% saying that the federal government should not try to enforce marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

"The people have spoken and members of Congress are taking action," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer."

"This bill is a win for federalism and a win for public safety," said Neill Franklin, a former Maryland narcotics detective and now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "In a time of bitter partisanship, it is quite telling that both Republicans and Democrats are calling for respect for the reform of marijuana laws. Polls show this is a winning issue for politicians, and change is inevitable. We applaud those legislators who, rather than trying to impede this progress, stand with the vast majority of Americans who believe these laws should be respected."

"Marijuana prohibition is on its last legs because most Americans no longer support it," said Steve Fox, national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This legislation presents a perfect opportunity for members to embrace the notion that states should be able to devise systems for regulating marijuana without their citizens having to worry about breaking federal law. If a state chooses to take marijuana sales away from cartels and the criminal market and put them in the hands of legitimate, tax-paying businesses, it should be able to do so without federal interference."

"We've reached a tipping point," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, "and it is time Congress acknowledge what voters, law enforcement, and state officials have been telling us for years: the feds should stop wasting money interfering when the states are more than capable of regulating marijuana effectively."

Even though this and the other federal marijuana reform bills have been introduced with bipartisan support, their future in the Republican-dominated House this session is murky at best. Some key committee chairs, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), head of the House Judiciary Committee, are very hostile to any reform efforts. But the pressure is mounting.

Washington, DC
United States

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