Polls: Surge in public support for cannabis reform

By Chris Conrad, westcoastleaf.com

Public opinion polls show a surge of support for cannabis reform in the first half of 2013. Even many Republicans and young Christians favor more progressive policies than the Obama administration has delivered, but federal officials lag far behind.

Industrial hemp — while not well known — is nonetheless widely supported. Fifty-six percent of Americans support legalizing industrial hemp farming and production of low-THC strains, according to national polling data released in May by YouGov.com and The Huffington Post.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll in early April that found 52% of Americans favored marijuana legalization, compared to 45% for keeping it illegal. This was the first time in the history of the Pew poll that legalization has been favored by a majority.

A lot depends on how the question is framed. More than nine out of 10 US adults agree that people who possess or use small quantities of cannabis should not face jail time, according to a May 2013 nationwide poll of 1,003 adults by Princeton Survey Research Associates Int. for Reason Magazine. A 52% majority said that they would support passage of federal legislation to “prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who grow, possess, or sell marijuana in the states that have legalized” such activities, while 42% said they oppose it.

The moralistic argument has apparently lost its luster for many. Most Americans don’t view marijuana use as a sin, and half of young Christians favor legalizing marijuana consumption for adults, according to polling data released in April by the Public Religion Research Institute. Among self-identified Christians age 18 to 29, 45% said they had used cannabis, 32% “strongly favored” legalization and another 18% simply “favored” it, for a total of 50%. Sixty-six percent of respondents who were not religiously affiliated supported it. By contrast, only 9% of Christian age 65 and older endorsed legalizing marijuana.

According to a nationwide Fox News telephone poll of 1,010 registered voters conducted in February and released in May, 85% of voters, including 80% of self-identified Republicans, agree that adults ought to be allowed to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes if a physician authorizes it — the highest level of public support for the issue ever reported in a scientific poll.

“Despite the overwhelming public support for medical marijuana law reform, legislation in Congress to amend federal law to allow for its use in the 18 states which permit it, House Bill 689, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, has only 16 co-sponsors out of a total of 435 House members and is not even scheduled for a public hearing,” noted NORML director Allen St. Pierre.

And, while Congress lags behind, the drug testing and forced rehabilitation industries have launched a counterattack against legalization through a campaign dubbed “Smart Approach to Marijuana,” with reformed alcoholic and drug addict and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy as its celebrity spokesperson. Their proposal is to keep prison-based prohibition going but to add a layer of mandatory drug testing and enforced treatment, even for people with no demonstrable drug addiction problem. — WestCoastLeaf.com News Service

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