By Phillip Smith
Voters in Texas are among the latest to hop on board the marijuana legalization bandwagon, according to a poll released this week. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for marijuana legalization at 58%, support for medical marijuana at 58%, and support for decriminalizing small-time possession at 61%.
The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The survey of 860 randomly selected Texas voters was conducted September 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%.
"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, a part-time Austin resident. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market."
The poll's legalization question -- "Would you support or oppose changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older?" -- was the only question that allowed respondents to qualify their support as "strongly support" or "somewhat support." Some 41% strongly supported legalization, with another 17% somewhat supporting it.
Unusually, support for legalization was stronger among women (59%) than among men (56%). Also going against the grain, support was stronger among blacks (61%) and Latinos (60%) than Anglos (56%). In most polls across the country, men and whites are more likely to support legalization than women, blacks, or Latinos.
By political affiliation, legalization won strong majority support among Democrats (70%) and independents (57%), while even nearly half of Republicans (48%) also favored it. Legalization also won majority support across all age groups, with even those 65 and older coming in at 52%.
The poll also found that 61% of state voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30% said they were opposed to that. Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined up to $2,000.
"Law enforcement officials' time would be better spent addressing violent crimes instead of adults simply possessing marijuana," Kampia said. "No adult should face potentially life-altering criminal penalties for using a product that is significantly less harmful than alcohol."
Most Texas voters (58%) support changing state law to allow seriously and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Just 31% said they are opposed.
"There is ample research demonstrating the medical benefits of marijuana in the treatment of several debilitating conditions," Kampia said. "People suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis should not face the threat of arrest for using medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help ease their suffering."