Q-poll shows majority favor marijuana legalization

Did you know that today is the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition?  On this date in 1933, the 21st Amendment passed into law, becoming the only amendment to repeal another in the US Constitution and end the “noble experiment” in enforced teetotaling.  Prohibition was a disaster, but its end didn’t stop the federal government from banning other substances — some inherently and obviously dangerous, others less so, including marijuana, whose relative dangers are still under debate decades after it became a prohibited substance.

A new poll from Quinnipiac today corroborates other polling in the last couple of weeks that Americans may have tired of this prohibition, too.  A majority of respondents want marijuana legalization for the first time in the Q-poll series — but it also shows a huge generation gap on the question:

American voters favor the legalization of marijuana, 51 – 44 percent, with a substantial gender and age gap, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. …

With the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes legal in about 20 states, and Washington and Colorado voting this November to legalize the drug for recreational use, American voters seem to have a more favorable opinion about this once-dreaded drug,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “There are large differences on this question among the American people.

“Men support legalization 59 – 36 percent, but women are opposed 52 – 44 percent. The racial split evident throughout American politics on many matters is barely noticeable on this question with 50 percent of white voters and 57 percent of black voters backing legalization.”

“Not surprisingly, voters 18 to 29 years old support legalization 67 – 29 percent while voters over age 65 are opposed 56 – 35 percent,” Brown added. “Voters 30 to 44 years old like the idea 58 – 39 percent, while voters 45 to 64 years old are divided 48 – 47 percent.”

“This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time.”

I’m not surprised to see a generation gap on this question, but I am a little surprised to see where it occurs.  Marijuana use exploded in the 1960s (and perhaps ramped up in the late 1950s), so it might make sense to see seniors stand in opposition to it — perhaps the older end of that demo more than the younger end.  But the 45-64YO demo came of age in the era of expanded and normalized (if still illegal) use of marijuana.  I would have expected to see more support for legalization in that age group, frankly.

As for me, I lean more toward ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, less because I think that legalizing pot would make for a better society than I think that the federal prohibition creates larger problems than it solves.  Unlike most illegal drugs, pot can be raised domestically in a safe manner. It has significant health issues, but so do tobacco and alcohol.  The question of legalization should be left to the states, as should the questions of how to deal with the ramifications in employment, health, and traffic safety.  Marijuana legalization isn’t the nirvana that some of its supporters claim, but the erosion of personal liberty inherent in the federal effort to stop marijuana cultivation, use, and sales outstrips the dangers of this substance.

Reason TV has an interesting feature today for Repeal Day.  Congress had its own bootlegger during Prohibition, and the exploits of George Cassiday — The Man in the Green Hat — have become the subject of historians lately:

From 1920 through 1930 – the thick of the Prohibition era – Cassiday supplied illegal liquor throughout the halls of Congress. Known as “The Man in the Green Hat,” Cassiday was the Capitol’s highest-profile bootlegger, with a client list that included senior members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. How instrumental was he to the D.C. power elite? He even had his own office in the House and Senate office buildings.

Cassiday gave up the liquor trade after his arrest in 1930, but gained notoriety by penning a series of front-page articles for The Washington Post about his days as Congress’ top bottle man.

Though he never named names, Cassiday’s stories detailed every aspect of his former business – and the depths of hypocrisy in Washington. By his own estimation, “four out of five senators and congressmen consume liquor either at their offices or their homes.” Appearing days before the 1930 mid-term elections, Cassiday’s revelations caused a national stir and helped sweep pro-Prohibitionist – and ostensibly tee-totaling – congressmen and senators out of power.

It’s something to keep in mind while debating other prohibitions.

Update: Er, today is the 79th anniversary, not the 78th anniversary.  So much for math.