The polling firm Gallup said Monday that for the first time ever, a super-majority of the American public wants the federal government to let individual states decide how to regulate marijuana, if they so choose.
“This isn’t the first poll that shows voters want the government to let the states move forward,” Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Raw Story. “We’re talking about multiple polls now, and they’re making it clear that most Americans do not want the federal government interfering in the implementation of state laws making marijuana illegal for adults.”
Pollsters segregated respondents into two groups: those in favor of keeping marijuana illegal, and those opposed. In the results, there appears to be some crossover from those who favor the drug war but also favor states rights, a key moral sticking point for many conservatives.
Interestingly, of those who still support prohibition, 43 percent said that the states should be left alone. A full 87 percent of those who oppose prohibition said they would rather the feds stay out of the states’ business.
Overall, Gallup said 48 percent of Americans think marijuana should be taxed and regulated for adult use, versus 50 percent who favor prohibition. Though that number is unchanged from Gallup’s 2011 poll on the same topic, it represents a dramatic shift from just 2005, when only about 35 percent of Americans favored legalization.
“Americans dissatisfaction with the criminalization of cannabis has reached a tipping point,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told Raw Story in an email. “Calling for an end to marijuana prohibition is no longer a political liability, it is a political opportunity and our elected officials would be wise to seize it.”
A similar poll taken last week by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling group found a record high 58 percent of Americans say marijuana should be taxed and regulated for adult use, whereas just 39 percent support continuing prohibitionist policies. That poll also found 46 percent of Republicans surveyed by PPP said they would like to see the federal government overrule the states on this matter.
“The initiatives in Colorado and Washington received strong majorities because voters agree that regulating marijuana like alcohol would be a much better approach than prohibition, and clearly it’s not just people in Colorado and Washington who want to see these measures implemented,” Tvert said. “As this latest poll shows, it’s almost two thirds of Americans. We don’t think the administration should undermine these states actions. [Obama] should work with the states to ensure we arrive at the most sensible policy possible.”
For the record, pollster guru Nate Silver predicted in 2009 that national marijuana legalization for adults appears to be inevitable, but he hedged his bets by saying that Congress won’t act until a super-majority of 60 percent or more of the public demands it.
“Americans are turning their backs on cannabis prohibition in record numbers for obvious reasons,” Armentano said. “The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes upon legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn’t work.”
So far, 17 members of Congress have voiced support for letting Colorado and Washington try to hammer out their own arrangements on marijuana regulation, but the Obama administration has been strangely silent on the issue. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also, amid a talk about his 2016 presidential aspirations, voiced support for letting individual states choose how to deal with the drug
Though one U.S. Attorney did remind voters and lawmakers that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, by all indications the president hasn’t yet made up his mind on a course of action.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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