The pleasant surprises of October


Tipping point alert: October 2013 may go down as the month that American public opinion decisively tipped in favor of legalizing marijuana and consigning 76 years of vicious prohibitionist reefer madness to history’s landfill.

Two polls taken in the last month seem to bear this out.

The first was a nationwide survey of 1,028 adults interviewed by the Gallup organization Oct. 3-6. It found that 58 percent of respondents favored legalizing marijuana, a 10-percentage-point increase from when Gallup asked the same question a year ago. The Gallup number in favor of legalization was 6 percentage points above the pro-legalization percentage recorded by a Pew Survey done last April, suggesting that public opinion may be moving rapidly in favor of legalization.

The Gallup survey overshadowed a second survey, taken by Public Policy Polling (PPP), which had findings that were at least as politically significant as Gallup’s, and in some ways more so. The PPP poll was not a national survey. It was a poll of 860 Texas voters interviewed Sept. 27-29.

Stunningly, it found that 58 percent of Texans either strongly or somewhat supported legalizing marijuana, the same percentage recorded by Gallup.

To be sure, there are nuances and caveats that apply.

Gallup and PPP asked the legalization question differently.

The question Gallup asked voters was, “Do you think marijuana should be made legal, or not?” Results were tallied as “Yes” and “No” (Yes 58 percent and No 39 percent).

The PPP legalization question, which was more detailed and more nuanced, was, “The voters in Colorado and Washington changed their laws to allow marijuana to be regulated similarly to alcohol for adults age 21 and older.

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?” Results were tallied as “Strongly support (41 percent)”, “Somewhat support (17 percent)”, “Somewhat oppose (14 percent),” “Strongly oppose (24 percent)” and “Not sure (3 percent).”

Conflating the “Strongly” and “Somewhat” support numbers to come up with a 58 percent in favor of legalization in the Texas poll may be a bit of a stretch, but probably not by much. The Gallup survey’s 58 percent in favor of legalization consists of people who are strongly in favor and people who are ambivalent but in favor on balance, even though Gallup didn’t do its survey in a way that would distinguish between them.

The demographic breakdowns in both polls are interesting. For instance, Gallup found the only two demographic groups that didn’t support legalization were voters over the age of 65 and Republicans.

Among voters age 65 and over, Gallup found opponents of legalization outnumbered supporters 45 percent to 52 percent. Among Texas seniors, 34 percent strongly supported legalization, and an additional 18 percent somewhat supported it; taken together, the two groups represented a majority (52 percent) in the 65-and-up demographic.

As for Republicans, Gallup found that nationally only 35 percent of Republicans support legalization. In Texas, PPP found that 33 percent of Republicans strongly supported legalization — but an additional 15 percent somewhat supported it. When the strongly and somewhat support and strongly and somewhat opposed numbers are combined for Texas Republicans, supporters trail opponents by just one percentage point (48 percent to 49 percent).

Taken together, the two polls show that public opinion is decisively shifting in favor of legalization.

The PPP poll was sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the group that spearheaded the drive for Amendment 64 in Colorado. On the strength of the Texas poll, Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert says the group will become more active in Texas.

However, the MPP will not circulate an initiative petition to put a marijuana legalization measure on the Texas ballot. That’s because the Texas constitution does not provide for citizen-initiated ballot proposals — although the Texas legislature could put a legalization measure on the ballot if it chose to, or pass one by itself.

Politically, the lack of an initiative process makes the Texas polling results particularly interesting, because it means that Texas candidates are going to have to start taking a stand on marijuana legalization — and with 58 percent of Texas voters for or leaning toward legalization, candidates better afford their opinions a decent respect.

At least one Texas Republican congressman appears to have recognized that the political winds are shifting. Rep. Steve Stockman represents Texas’ newly formed 36th Congressional District, which runs from the Louisiana line to the Houston ’burbs. It is a highly conservative district and Stockman is exuberantly conservative.

Gun rights play a big role in Stockman’s life. He’s also anti-abortion, doesn’t have much use for women’s issues and voted against John Boehner for speaker because he thought Boehner was too wimpy when it came to opposing Obama. Recently he sent copies of a book on impeachment to all members of the House. He’s a Tea Party fave and the sort of conservative Boulder liberals love to hate.

In short, not exactly the sort of guy who’s out to get the stoner vote. But a couple of weeks ago Stockman quietly signed on as a co-sponsor of the “Respect Marijuana Laws Act of 2013.” The act, which was originally introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacker (R-Calif.), provides that anyone who is in compliance with their state’s laws regarding the possession, manufacture or use of marijuana would not be subjected to federal penalties.

Now that’s my sort of an October surprise.