CBS poll: Majority favors marijuana legalization for first time

Yesterday, the White House rushed to clarify Barack Obama’s position on marijuana after the publication of his comments in the New Yorker, insisting that nothing has changed on his opposition to legalization. To which I answered: YetA couple of more polls like this from CBS News, and we’re going to start actually hearing the E word — evolving:

For the first time since the CBS News Poll began asking the question, a slight majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana use.

Fifty-one percent say they think the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 44 percent do not.  Public opinion on this issue has changed dramatically over the past few years:  in October 2011 a slight majority (51 percent) opposed making marijuana use legal, and as recently as April 2013 public opinion was divided on this issue (45 percent supported, 45 percent opposed). Interestingly, in July 1979, when CBS News first asked the question, 69 percent thought marijuana use should not be made legal and only 27 percent thought it should be made legal.

Approval, or perhaps more accurately tolerance, is rising in all demographics. Middle-aged Americans now favor it by a majority, although seniors are still resisting the Yes We Cannabis evolution. Even there, though, approval has gone up six points from April 2013. Among conservatives, only 36% approve, but that’s still eleven points better in only nine months. Overall approval has also vaulted by eleven points in just twenty-seven months, so this is a strong trend and not just a margin-of-error shift.

Interestingly, federalism remains consistent on this issue. Respondents favor state government control over regulating marijuana use by 62/35, almost identical to September 2012’s 62/32.

The same-sex-marriage-esque evolution this year at the White House is inevitable, for two reasons. One is just that legalization is becoming more popular, and Colorado’s experiment legitimizes the effort. But the other is ObamaCare. As the costs have become apparent to the younger voters getting soaked on premiums to subsidize older consumers, that demographic has become disenchanted with Obama — even after Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage. Income inequality is going to put them to sleep rather than excite them back to the polls for the midterms. The only trick left in the book to distract them from the disaster of ObamaCare is legal weed — and it’s popular enough that some Republicans will probably get on the bandwagon to negate Democrats’ attempt to bogart the issue entirely for themselves.

So get ready, because the Obama evolution on pot is coming, probably timed for when next year’s premium prices and employer-mandate market disruptions occur. That’s not to say that there won’t be resistance on the substance of the issue, and my Fiscal Times colleague Liz Peek outlines the counter argument:

Polling has shown the public – even older voters who are traditionally more conservative   – supportive of legalizing pot. Many of our traditional culture warriors, like those who might oppose violence in video games, for instance, or who defend traditional marriage, have drifted Libertarian. The voices in the country advocating for small government now want to keep the feds out of their bedroom, out of their pocketbook and out of their lives.  So, the timing is auspicious for the pro-pot group.

But – the public (like Mr. Obama apparently) is not armed with the facts.  First and foremost, pot has changed since the president’s “choom gang” days. A study at the University of Mississippi shows the average potency (THC content) of marijuana confiscated by the government in 1992 was about 3 percent.  By 2009, the average potency was about 11 percent, nearly 4 times higher.  That means the drug has more of an impact, and is more likely to lead to dependency.

Though those favoring legalization claim that no one becomes addicted to marijuana, studies indicate otherwise. A survey conducted by the Health and Human Services Department states that nearly 20 million Americans over the age of 12 in 2011 professed to have used pot in the prior month.  The report concluded that over 4 million people “met the diagnostic criteria for the abuse of or dependence on this drug” — more than are hooked on pain relievers, cocaine, or all other drugs combined. …

Thus, when Mr. Obama equates marijuana usage with smoking cigarettes, and says pot isless dangerous that alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer”, he is sending a terrible message.

Be sure to read it all, but in the end I doubt these issues will effectively counter the need for Obama to pander to the younger demographics and get them off the sidelines in 2014.