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As FOX Poll Shows Marijuana Legalization Support, Opponents Move the Goalposts

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As FOX Poll Shows Marijuana Legalization Support, Opponents Move the Goalposts

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Every month seems to bring another public opinion poll showing that about sixty percent of the American public supports marijuana legalization. The latest organization to ask is FOX News, hardly a bastion of tie-dyed potheads.

The poll shows 59 percent of voters support legalizing marijuana. That’s up from 51 percent in 2015, and 46 percent in 2013 (the first time this question was asked on a Fox News Poll). In addition, only 26 percent favored making “smoking marijuana” legal in 2001.

Thirty-two percent now oppose legalizing pot, down from a high of 49 percent in 2013.

Two-thirds of Democrats (68 percent) and independents (67 percent) favor legalization. Republicans split 46-46 percent. In 2015, 59 percent of Republicans were against it.

One year into Colorado’s marijuana legalization the “quarterback of the anti-legalization movement,” Kevin Sabet of Project SAMUEL (Smart Approaches to Marijuana Use Except Legalization), said, “Colorado’s experience, ironically, might eventually teach us that legalization’s worst enemy is itself.”

How’s that workin’ out for ya, Kev?

Here’s a look at every public opinion poll I can find that has asked a version of the question, “Should adult marijuana use be made legal?” (You can download the complete spreadsheet, with charts included, as a $9.99 subscriber to The Marijuana Agenda.)

Legalization Polls since the passage of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.
Legalization Polls since the passage of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington.

On this table, polls shaded in green show majority support for marijuana legalization. Red shading indicates majority opposition for marijuana legalization. Yellow shading indicates a poll where a plurality of respondents supported marijuana legalization. Ties and plurality opposition are unshaded.

Notice how there are no red polls? Since Colorado legalized marijuana, no poll has shown majority opposition to marijuana legalization. In fact, just five of the 47 polls show plurality opposition to marijuana legalization. The last poll to indicate such opposition to marijuana legalization was taken in August of 2014.

All Legalization Polls 1969-2018 (click for full-size download, available for $4.20 subscribers at The Marijuana Agenda).
All Legalization Polls 1969-2018 (click for full-size download, available for $4.20 subscribers at The Marijuana Agenda).

The support for marijuana legalization has been trending steadily upward since 1989. Since Oregon, Alaska, and DC joined Colorado and Washington in legalizing marijuana, every poll has supported marijuana legalization.

All Legalization Polls 2012-2018 (click for full-size download, available for $4.20 subscribers at The Marijuana Agenda).
All Legalization Polls 2012-2018 (click for full-size download, available for $4.20 subscribers at The Marijuana Agenda).

Since California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine joined the marijuana legalization movement fully in 2017, no poll has shown less than 59 percent support.

In response to being 5-42 in his six seasons at quarterback, Kevin Sabet has lately been moving the goalposts. Now he’s not arguing that legalization will be its own worst enemy, leading the public to oppose it, but instead that pollsters are painting an inaccurate picture by only asking if marijuana should be legalized and not offering other options.

Here’s Sabet’s protégé, Will Jones, crowing about the results of a Mason-Dixon Poll they commissioned in Illinois:

According to the poll, which is one of the first to distinguish between decriminalization and legalization, only 23 percent of Illinois residents 18 and older approve of legalizing recreational marijuana use and sales when given a choice. The majority of residents, 69 percent, want to maintain current decriminalization laws, repeal medical marijuana, or keep recreational marijuana illegal. Marijuana possession in Illinois is currently subject to a civil violation.

Putting these combinations of policy options together in one poll is, of course, a disingenuous and confounding way to proceed. Looking at the actual poll, you find that Illinoisans were asked if they prefer:

  1. (47%) Keeping medical marijuana and 10-gram decrim
  2. (4%) Repealing medical marijuana, keeping 10-gram decrim
  3. (23%) Legalize commercial production, use and sale of marijuana for recreational use
  4. (18%) Make all marijuana use illegal
  5. (8%) Not sure

That’s four options – medical, decrim, commercial, and prohibition – but the poll doesn’t ask about all the possible combinations of those policy choices. For instance, there is no option to repeal decrim but keep medical. The commercial option doesn’t specify what happens to medical marijuana. The decrim options are preceded by an explanation that it refers to just 10 grams of personal possession, but the legalization option is open-ended. The decrim explanation claims 10 grams is “enough for about 30 joints;” this is a framing trick to make the respondent think 10 grams is a whole lot of marijuana.

Project SAMUEL isn’t going to tell you that only 22 percent support their policy goals – maintaining the illegality of all commercial marijuana, opposing medical marijuana, and pretending they are for allowing for decriminalization for personal use amounts (so long as it includes drug courts that force cannabis consumers into one of their boardmembers’ rehab facilities – which Illinois’ decrim law does not mandate). Also, remember that whenever decrim (like Hawaii) or non-commercial legalization (like Vermont) is proposed, Project SAMUEL never supports it and often opposes it.

They want you to believe that only 23 percent of Illinoisans support marijuana legalization. But asking the questions in this manner purposefully confounds the results. How many of the 47 percent who wish to keep medical marijuana did not support the option to legalize because they thought that would replace medical marijuana? How many were unsure of supporting legalization without any details as to how much?

Furthermore, it seems the poll must have asked the yes/no question about support for legalization, because the poll includes a breakdown of responses based on whether the respondent believes we should legalize recreational use. Whether or not the respondent supported legalization, the support for the option “keep medical and decrim as is” was virtually identical, with 45 percent of legalization supporters preferring the status quo versus 48 percent for the opposition.

Frustratingly, this FOX poll doesn’t give us the breakdown on that binary question on legalization. But today’s editorial in the Chicago Tribune cites a Simon Poll from last year showing that 66 percent of Illinoisans support legalization.

That seems to be accurate, because supporting legalization implies support for medical marijuana (the person who supports legalization but opposes medical marijuana doesn’t exist) and improving decriminalization. Adding together the people who support medical marijuana and support legalization from the Mason-Dixon Poll gives you 70 percent, then subtracting the 4 percent of people who would repeal medical marijuana but keep decrim and you get that same 66 percent that the Simon Poll found.

Whatever the spin, keep up the good work, Project SAMUEL! Since you’ve existed, we’ve gone from 2 to 9 legal states, 18 to 29 medical marijuana states, and from 48 percent support to 64 percent in the Gallup Poll.

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