2. Two New Polls Show Strong Public Support for Drug Policy Reform
Scott Ehlers, Senior Policy Analyst, Drug Policy Foundation, [email protected], http://www.dpf.orgWhether it be medical marijuana or sentencing reform, Americans are ready for drug policy reform, according to two recent public opinion polls conducted by Gallup and the New York Law Journal.
On March 26, the nationally recognized Gallup Organization released the results of a poll that included two marijuana-related questions. According to the telephone survey of 1,018 adults, 73 percent of respondents would "vote for making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe in order to reduce pain and suffering." The highest support was among independent voters, at 79 percent, while 77 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds supported medical marijuana.
When asked, "Would you vote for or against the legalization of marijuana?", 29 percent of respondents said they would vote in favor. This is the highest level of general public support for marijuana legalization since Gallup began asking the question in 1969. Once again, the highest support came from 18-to-29 year-olds and independents, with 44 percent of younger voters and 37 percent of independents favoring legalization.
How much effect did the recent release of the Institute of Medicine's medical marijuana report have on the results? According to the Marijuana Policy Project's director of government relations, Rob Kampia, "Not a lot." According to Kampia, "Over the last few years, all the polls have shown a high level of public support for medical marijuana, ranging anywhere from 60 to 80 percent. The Gallup Poll reflects that."
As to why there seems to be a higher level of public support for marijuana legalization, Kampia points to the successes of marijuana decriminalization initiatives in Arizona and Oregon as possible influencing factors. "Certain people are not willing to admit they are in favor of controversial issues like marijuana legalization unless they see that a lot of other people support it. People like to be on the winning team, whether it be football, basketball, or politics."
On March 29, the New York Law Journal released the results of its poll of 909 New York voters conducted by the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute. The poll found that more than two-thirds (69%) of respondents preferred for judges to be allowed to decide on a case-by-case basis the length of sentences for those convicted of selling drugs, rather than having sentences set strictly by state law. The poll also found, however, that 70 percent of respondents believed that a prosecutor should have the right to appeal a sentence for drug use or sales if he/she believes the judge's sentence is too lenient.
The poll is significant because there have been extensive outcries against the harsh Rockefeller drug laws in New York state in recent months. Last month, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye proposed legislation to change the Rockefeller drug laws by allowing appellate courts to reduce the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for the most serious drug felonies. She also suggested that trial judges, with the consent of the prosecutor, be allowed to defer prosecution of low-level drug offenders for two years, and instead divert them to drug treatment programs.
The New York Law Journal poll is online at http://www.nylj.com/stories/99/03/032999a3.htm.