New polling data from the Pew Research Center shows that roughly six-in-ten Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana, a number that has been steadily rising over the past decade. Although numbers have remained relatively stable over the past year, climbing from 61 percent to 62 percent, they have nearly doubled since the turn of the century.
Polling data breaks down heavily along partisan and generational lines, however, as those groups that are younger and identify themselves as liberal and less religious tend to favor cannabis legalization while older conservatives of faith tend to oppose it. It’s data that could have an impact on wedge issue voters that care about cannabis during the upcoming midterm elections, especially in light of recent news that the current White House administration has what’s being referred to as a secret anti-marijuana committee with an agenda to stigmatize the drug.
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According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Millennials, 63 percent of Gen Xers, and 54 percent of the Baby Boom generation support cannabis legalization, while a plurality of the Silent Generation (39 percent) is against. Moreover, nearly 70 percent of Democrats want to see the drug become legal, along with another 75 percent of self-identified independents who lean Democratic.
Republicans continue to be split on the issue, with a majority (51 percent) against cannabis legalization. Only 45 percent favor it, but that number is up from 39 percent three years ago. Fifty-nine percent of self-identified independents who lean Republican support marijuana legalization as well.
The data may explain why despite some bluster from prominent Republicans such as Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and even President Trump himself, no forward progress has been made on the legalization front at the federal level, even as the party controls both houses of Congress and the White House.
White House confirms the existence of anti-marijuana committee
Americans hopeful that the issue of cannabis would bridge the partisan divide had their dreams dashed earlier this year when BuzzFeed News reported on a secret White House committee focused on propagating an anti-marijuana message. Though White House officials were evasive at the time, neither confirming nor denying the committee’s existence, BuzzFeed now confirms that the reports were true.
According to a letter sent to Democratic senator Michael Bennet of Colorado from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, the committee has been at work for some time, though officials call their agenda “unbiased.” Bennet sought the information following BuzzFeed’s original report back in August.
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ONDCP Acting Director James Carroll wrote to Bennet to say that the committee would assess the cannabis plant fairly.
“The article you referenced in your letter implies that PCCs are somehow secret, unusual, or outside the appropriate process for policy development in the executive branch, so please allow me to clear up any misconceptions,” wrote Carroll on September 21. “You have my full and firm commitment that ONDCP will be completely objective and dispassionate in collecting all relevant facts and peer-reviewed scientific research on all drugs, including marijuana.”
However, as BuzzFeed reported in August, the ONDCP contacted 14 government agencies plus the Drug Enforcement Administration seeking only negative information on cannabis. According to one memo discovered by BuzzFeed, the committee complained that there was too much positive news surrounding the plant and that the White House wished to change the narrative.
As revealed by the data, a partisan bridge too far
Despite a strong and growing plurality of Americans from all walks of life and political leanings favoring cannabis legalization, the country functions off of a patchwork quilt of state laws which hold back a billion dollar industry from being a true force on the global stage. Moreover, America’s antiquated drug laws continue to terrorize communities of color, making criminals out of those working in the exact same industry as Wall Street executives.
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But both polling and practice are beginning to paint a picture of a partisan exercise, where it has become abundantly clear who supports cannabis legalization efforts and who does not. With four new legalization initiatives on the ballot this fall, along with every single member of Congress, it has also become abundantly clear what Americans need to do to move our cannabis laws forward.