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Has There Been a Drop in Support for Marijuana Legalization?

The Suffolk poll didn’t really find a shift in opinion among anyone about marijuana legalization.

Opponents of marijuana legalization recently seized on two polls in an effort to make a case there is some backlash against legalization, a local Colorado poll by Suffolk University and a national poll Public Religion Research Institute. Let’s look at both of these.

Colorado poll

The Suffolk poll found only 45.8 percent of likely voters still agree with the decision to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado while 50.2 disagree. This actually doesn’t show a drop in support for legalization in the state because the poll is of likely 2014 midterm voters.

Polls are normally conducted of adults, registered voters (a subset of adults), or likely voters (a farther subset of registered voters). As a group likely voters tend to be older and more conservative than the population as a whole, and this is especially true in low turnout non-Presidential year elections. This is a well known fact, which is why the legalization campaign in Colorado chose to put its initiative on the ballot in 2012 instead of 2014. For example, this poll also found only 46 percent of likely voters this election voted for Obama in 2012, even though he won 51.5 percent of the vote in 2012.

The poll didn’t really find a shift in opinion among anyone about marijuana legalization. It just found that many of the young people who voted for legalization in 2012 aren’t planning to vote in this midterm, while the most of the older people who voted against it are, but that is to be expected.

For comparison, an NBC/Marist poll conducted just a few weeks earlier found 55 percent of adults and 52 percent of register voters favor the marijuana legalization law. That is very similar to the margin by which it was approved in the last high turnout presidential election.

National Poll

The new Public Religion Research Institute poll found 44 percent of Americans adults favor making the use of marijuana legal. The poll previously found support at 51 percent in 2013 and at 43 percent in 2012. It is possible they actually captured a massive swing or that that one or both of their recent samples was bad. It is worth noting the poll also found support for same-sex marijuana going up by three points from 2012 to 2013 then down by three points from 2013 to 2014, which seems to disagree with the general trend other pollsters have found on the issue of marriage equality.

Since individual polls can be outliers this is why it is best to look at the average of all polls. At the moment all other national polls this year still show at least a plurality of Americans support making marijuana legal and many state polls this year also show majority support. It is possible this one poll might actually have captured something, but we’ll need other polls to confirm before I would put much stock in it.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy, which is on sale this week for just $0.99!

Photo by Sheila Steele under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at

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