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Poll Shows Half of Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana

Saturday, October 22, 2011


The number of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana is higher than the number opposed for the first time ever, according to a new Gallup poll. But Rhode Islanders still won’t be seeing any medical marijuana compassion centers opening any time soon.

The poll results, released on October 17, show that 50% of Americans, a record high, support legalizing marijuana, with 46% against it. When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, it was only supported by 12% of Americans. From the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, the percentage hovered around 25%, and between 2000 and today it grew from 30% to 50%. The number of people who support legalizing the drug is inversely proportional to age, and men, Democrats, and people not from the South are more likely to support it as well.

However, the direction that marijuana legislation has taken in Rhode Island does not reflect these high national numbers. On September 29, Governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he was halting the state’s plans to license three medical marijuana dispensaries. His reason was that the state law allowing for the centers is illegal under federal law, and so the centers could become targets of federal civil and criminal enforcement efforts. This plan has been months in the making and Chafee hopes to bring the law up again soon with the general assembly, but right now it seems the public pension system is more of a priority.

Not a Priority For Governor

JoAnne Leppanen, the executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC), said, “We are exasperated with the governor. We know he is supportive of medical marijuana, but the path he has taken is outrageous and frustrating. It is frustrating beyond what I can express.” She continued, “It’s not a priority to him. I don’t think he understands that real people are suffering now. It is unforgivable to treat the citizens of the state this way.”

Last year, a Gallup survey found that 70% of Americans supported legalizing the prescription of medical marijuana to reduce pain and suffering, and Americans have generally been more favorable towards the use of marijuana medicinally than as a legalized recreational drug.

In response to these polls, Leppanen said, “Those numbers don’t surprise me. I think a poll like that in Rhode Island would produce even higher numbers. Because it’s such a small state, everyone seems to know someone who is in the program, or someone who has suffered from a disease that could be helped by medical marijuana.” She added, “I never run into people opposed to it here, even someone you’d expect, because people don’t want to see other people suffer. The medical form is non-toxic, and given the natural and benign nature of it, it is gaining popularity at a steady pace.” She also made clear that the more people associate medicinal marijuana with recreational marijuana, the less support it will be given, and people need to understand the distinction between the two.

State Rep: Poll Reflects Failure of National Drug Laws

Democratic state representative Scott Slater has been a strong advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana in Rhode Island, speaking at protest rallies and following his late father Rep. Thomas C. Slater’s footsteps in championing the legislation. Regarding this latest national poll, he said, “I believe the recent poll numbers on legalization of marijuana reflect a growing understanding of the failure of our national drug laws and the recognition of marijuana's medical value. I believe too many people, particularly those who are poor or live in minority communities, have been permanently harmed by the senseless scheduling of marijuana by our federal government."

As for its implications for Rhode Island, he said, "I find it equally troubling that a state like Rhode Island, that has recognized the medical benefits of marijuana, still faces the imposing threat of federal intervention when we simply try to open a small number of non-profit facilities where patients can get medicine. Based on the recent Gallup poll, it appears that the majority of Americans are tired of our government's marijuana laws. Hopefully, those at the federal level will soon end this failure of public policy."

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