Gallup finds record support for legal pot

Angela K. Evans | Boulder Weekly

new record.

Several new records, in fact.

The Gallup organization is out with the results of its annual poll on whether Americans want to legalize marijuana, an issue its been asking about in its polls with increasing frequency since 1969.

We’ve come a long way.

In 1969, just 12 percent of American adults favored legalizing marijuana. In the latest poll, taken in early October this year, support for legalization had risen to 64 percent, a four-point increase since last year and a new record.

Opposition to legalizing pot dropped five percentage points to 34 percent, a record low.

The decline in the percentage opposing legalization is just as important as the increase in the number favoring it.

When a campaign or a policy’s poll numbers fall much below 40 percent, it’s in real danger of going into a death spiral where its base support disintegrates to a point from which it’s nearly impossible to recover.

That seems to be what’s happening to opposition to marijuana legalization.

Also, a decline in constituent opposition probably carries more weight in state legislatures than a jump in support. State legislators are probably more concerned about losing votes over the pot issue than about gaining them (or at least up to now).

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, at least 18 state legislatures are expected to consider bills to legalize either recreational or medical marijuana during their 2018 sessions. Those bills will have much easier sledding if public support for keeping marijuana illegal is in freefall.

Gallup’s pot polling produced another record result as well: For the first time in 48 years of polling on the issue, a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, favored legalizing marijuana (along with 72 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents).

The increase in year-over-year Republican support was particularly dramatic; in 2016, only 42 percent of Republicans favored legalization.

This shift is a big deal. As Gallup points out, Attorney General Jeff Sessions (and by extension like-minded Republican heavies) may find himself “out of step with his own party,” if present trends continue. But there’s more to it than that.

Gallup’s findings suggest that there will be a number of Democratic candidates who make marijuana a campaign issue next year, especially if they’re running in districts where a lot of people are still getting arrested for pot.

The fact that half of Republicans now favor marijuana legalization means the issue can be used by Democrats as a wedge issue — an issue introduced into a campaign to split the opposition — in some districts. Republicans will ignore this at their peril.

Up until now, opposing marijuana legalization has been the “safe” political position to take in most places. The conventional wisdom was, “Nobody ever lost an election by opposing marijuana.”

If Gallup’s numbers are correct, chances are that’s rapidly becoming untrue. While we won’t know that for sure until next year’s election, there is at least one race that will be decided next Tuesday in which marijuana legalization has been an issue — and in which the candidate loudly supporting it has a 20 point lead in the most recent poll.

In New Jersey, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has given full-throated support to legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, pledging to sign a legalization bill into law within the first 100 days of taking office if elected. According to the latest poll taken by Quinnipiac University, which was released last week, Murphy has a 20-point lead in the race over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is suffering from her association with outgoing New Jersey Governor and pot prohibition dead-ender Chris Christie. Guadagno is against legalization but favors decriminalizing pot possession.

New Jersey voters say marijuana isn’t the most important issue in the election, but if Murphy wins, I suspect a lot of politicians, especially Republicans, will reconsider their anti-legalization stands, and bills pending in those state legislatures will start getting some real traction.