By 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.