CBS poll shows even split for marijuana legalization

posted at 11:21 am on November 30, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Has America become more libertarian on marijuana?  A new poll from CBS shows that respondents split evenly on the question of legalization at 47% either way.  It’s the second year in a row that a majority for prohibition has failed to materialize, and the first time that it failed to get even a plurality:

For the first time since CBS News began asking the question, as many Americans now think marijuana use should be legal as think it should not.

Support for legalizing marijuana inched up slightly from 45 percent in September to 47 percent today, according to a CBS News poll, conducted Nov. 16-19. Another 47 percent think it should remain prohibited. A year ago, a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, opposed legalizing marijuana use.

This shift in public opinion was seen at the ballot box this month, when Colorado and Washington became the first states in the nation to approve of recreational marijuana use among adults over the age of 21. Marijuana use of any kind, however, is still illegal under federal law. It’s unclear at this point how the Obama administration intends to respond.

The poll shows a significant partisan split on the issue.  Majorities of Democrats and independents favor legalization, but at 51% and 55% respectively, those majorities are not as significant as one might think.  However, two-thirds of Republicans still believe it should be prohibited.

The age demos are more telling on this point. Majorities of age demos below 45 believe in legalization — although again, perhaps not as significantly as one would guess.  The 18-29YO demo favors legalization by only 13 points, 54/41, while 30-44YOs favor it by almost the same amount, 53/42.  The middle-aged demo, of which I’m a member, is almost evenly split at 46/48, but seniors deeply oppose legalization at 30/61.

The numbers are much different for doctor-prescribed marijuana, though:

Eighty-three percent of Americans favor allowing doctors to prescribe small amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses, the poll shows – up from 77 percent a year ago and 62 percent back in 1997. A majority of Americans of all ages – as well as most Republicans, Democrats, and independents – favor allowing this.

The CBS poll doesn’t include age demos on this question; it would be interesting to see how that splits out.  Also interesting is the impression people have about doctor-prescribed marijuana.  Only 29% think doctors mainly prescribe it for “serious medical illness,” while 53% believe doctors prescribe it for “other reasons.”  If so, I wonder why so many back prescription pot but not full legalization.  Perhaps they see it as a stimulus plan for primary-care physicians; they’ll need one under ObamaCare, to be sure.

Earlier this week, I featured Steven Crowder’s look at marijuana in our Green Room, and it got over 120 comments the last time I looked, and it’s worth another look on this post.  Steven argues that there is a valid argument for getting the federal government out of marijuana prohibition, but rebuts the argument that pot is harmless or less harmful than alcohol – as well as provides an entertaining bit of vox populi from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Update: Scott Rasmussen wrote about legalization two weeks ago, noting that support for it increases when people understand that access will come with significant regulatory oversight:

When we ask Americans simply whether they favor legalization of marijuana, 45 percent say yes and 45 percent say no.

But when we ask about legalizing and regulating marijuana in a similar manner to the way alcohol and cigarettes are regulated, support for legalization increases to 56 percent. Only 36 percent remain opposed.

Most support regulations that would make it illegal for those under 18 to purchase pot, insure that those who drive under the influence would receive strict penalties and favor a ban on smoking marijuana in public places.

Fifty-eight percent support a requirement that marijuana could be purchased only in pharmacies. A plurality thinks that would cut the income of those who continue to sell drugs illegally.

Perhaps the impulse here isn’t entirely libertarian.


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