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Poll: 60 Percent Of Americans Say States Should Decide Marijuana Policy


marijuana prohibitionBy Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

Six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy, according to national polling data reported this week by the Washington, DC think-tank Third Way.

When presented with the option, 60 percent of respondents said that state officials ought to possess the authority to “control and decide whether to legalize marijuana.” Only 34 percent of those polled said that the federal government ought to enforce marijuana laws.

Similarly, a super-majority of voters (67 percent) agreed, “Congress should pass a bill giving states that have legalized marijuana a safe haven from federal marijuana laws, so long as they have a strong regulatory system.”

Overall, 50 percent of voters said that they support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes while 47 percent opposed the notion. However, among those opposed to legalization, 21 percent endorsed the idea of Congress providing a “safe haven” from federal prohibition in those states that have chosen to legalize the plant’s use and sale.

“The fact that state legalization of marijuana violates federal law and creates an untenable policy situation was clear – and the voters we polled responded not with ideological proclamations but by supporting a middle-ground, pragmatic policy which would ease that conflict as the legal landscape continues to quickly shift,” representatives for the think-tank stated in a media release. “This means marijuana is not an issue of absolutes for many Americans – rather, it requires a nuanced balancing of values and interests.”

Nationwide, voter support for cannabis legalization was highest among Democrats (64 percent), Millennials (61 percent), and non-white/Hispanic voters (61 percent). A majority of women voters and self-identified Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. By contrast, majority support (78 percent) for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes extended throughout all demographics.

Among respondents, 54 percent expressed a favorable view of those who used cannabis therapeutically, while only 36 percent said that they possessed a favorable view of social consumers.

When it came to the issue of how to most effectively influence voters’ opinions on marijuana law reform, authors reported that neither negative nor positive messaging “moved voters substantially in either direction.” Specifically, authors’ reported that many respondents failed to sympathize with the idea that the drug war was overly punitive or that the federal government might once again begin cracking down on state-compliant cannabis consumers and providers.

Authors concluded, “As opponents lean heavily into values-based arguments regarding teenage marijuana use and highway safety, more research still needs to be done to identify a compelling value for legalizing recreational marijuana – the way that compassion underlies support for medical marijuana.”

Researchers collected opinion data over the course of several months in two separate waves – first with a late summer focus group and then with an October poll of 856 registered voters, conducted online.

Full text of the Third Way report is online at here.

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Johnny Green


  1. There has been enough scientific data out there for decades to support legalization. It’s not the data or the lack of data — it’s a political football that’s been tossed and tossed and tossed because of the challenge of how to allow it and yet have control over it from a fiscal perspective . Legalization of cannabis has been a political/fiscal football for almost as long as I have been living.

  2. The Federal government needs to reschedule this out of Schedule One and put it in Schedule Three. And better yet, they should legalize it so that there is not a chance that they interfere with the each state’s sovereignty and wish to govern themselves.

    More and more we see examples where our Federal government needs to stay away how each state governs and runs its state. It will open up more for respecting and implementing the wishes of the residents of that state.

  3. They sound like a confused bunch, there in Arkansas, but your take on the situation sounds accurate. Why in hell would the voters put this person in as governor when the very same voters favor legalization or at least decriminalization and medical cannabis? The only thing I can think is that who was polled in favor ultimately were ones that didn’t go to the polls.

    Hell, I’m even confused on that one but the near future doesn’t sound that bright for supporters when considering who sits in that top state seat.

    Good luck — sounds like you’ll need it — but we’re not any better off here in New York State — we have a dictator governor who couldn’t care less what the majority wants — it’s HIS state — not ours…

    Ilion, NY

  4. I was unaware of the state’s being able to prohibit… I knew there were dry counties and blue laws, but not state prohibitions… Thanks.

    I still prefer a federal government that protects all Americans’ rights under the 9th.

  5. What American’s say they want and what they do are two entirely different things. One example of this from November still sticks in my craw. A majority of likely Arkansas voter’s when polled, claimed to support medical marijuana in their state. Then did a 180, picking Bush Jr.’s former national DEA Directer, (the vociferous anti-cannabis crusader), Asa Hutchinson to be their new Governor, dooming any future cannabis reform during the four years “Hutch” sit ‘s in the Governor’s mansion. Arkansan’s, like many American’s, claim they support ending cannabis prohibition, yet remain conflicted, or even hostile toward any progressive, logical state cannabis policy.. .

  6. It’s true that if we had no laws, there would be chaos.
    Assuming that all people will make good decisions is ludicrous, just watch the evening news and the parade of orange jump suits parading in front of a judge because of stupid, criminal behavior. Would you really want these people making decisions that have no consequences? Probably not.
    Assuming that 100% of the people will eventually be persuaded to support legalization isn’t a valid assumption either.
    What we need are more legitimate medical research studies that do, in fact, identify specific medical issues that are positively affected by the use of cannabis. A more comprehensive study would also monitor and report the impact of cannabis use on all physical and mental functions within the body. Just as we immediately look at the potential side effects before taking a newly prescribed medication, we should also have this kind of information available to everyone with regard to the way cannabis might potentially affect one’s bodily functions.

  7. Dixieland Modifications on

    i have noticed myself that majority of the “legal”states are the ones with the government officials… *sigh quit being so greedy and controlling and pass that joint…

  8. Texas has such screwed up laws here and the only way it would ever be legalized here, is if it is legalized on the federal level. It doesn’t matter how many Texans want it legalized. That’s why I would love to move to a state where it is legal.

  9. Sounds great at first thought, then the idea comes that some rogue politician could make problems in their state with no one protecting the cannabis community, it sounds like not then a good thing, whats wrong with the idea of rather than states rights, that we instead observe human rights

  10. I do hate polls of this nature despite it showing a leaning in the right direction. The fact is 1k-1500 people being polled does not accurately reflect the nation at large and as such is kind of meaningless. Cool to read none the less.

  11. Actually, you are wrong about the 21st amendment. States are 100% allowed to prohibit alcohol under the law. Alcohol was prohibited in Mississippi until 1966.

    I think we should focus on letting the citizens of states decide for themselves. I predict almost all will make the right decision and legalize marijuana once federal prohibition is repealed.

  12. No state has the right to deny US citizens their rights. And US citizens have the right to consume cannabis.

    We learned the hard way that prohibition doesn’t work, and the 21st amendment makes it clear that no state has the right to prohibit alcohol. Same should go for the much less dangerous cannabis.

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