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Public Opinion: Battle of the Marijuana Polls

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #629)
Politics & Advocacy

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.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


undrgrndgirl (not verified)

the aol poll attached to their coverage of the asspress/cnbc poll had 80% favoring legalization...generally speaking, polling firms do not call cell phones and there are more and more people with only cell phones - and even if they did call cell phones they still won't get an accurate picture as there are lots of us whose cell phone numbers do not match the area code in which we live...

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 12:36pm Permalink
Bull (not verified)

One can never underestimate the intelligence of the masses. One can never overestimate the power of myth. That any thinking person still believes in the so-called "gateway" thesis of recreational drug use is evidence in support of both generalities. Once you consider that it is prohibition itself that exposes marijuana users to the wider bootleg drug market, the notion that smoking cannabis will somehow mysteriously create a desire to use other, different, potentially harmful recreational drugs becomes obviously silly.

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 2:46pm Permalink
notamexicanamerican (not verified)

Put it to a ballot... Can we gets states to just put it to a vote.

Legislators are too afraid to pick up the issue while the public is light years a head of them.

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 11:47pm Permalink

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