In these polarized, partisan times, you rarely see an issue with 83% support and 16% opposed. But those eye-popping figures come from a recent poll of Americans’ opinion on changing the federal illegality of marijuana, and 83% supported removing cannabis’ illegal federal status.
What’s more eye-popping is to find the poll was commissioned by the nation’s biggest anti-cannabis advocate, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM.) They like to be described as “a bi-partisan partnership.” Their new poll shows that cannabis is indeed a bipartisan issue, just not how they’d hoped.
The poll was not a yes or no choice, but instead gave respondents five options. “Currently, possessing and using marijuana is against federal law,” the poll asked. “Which one of the following best describes your preference on national marijuana policy?”
The options were to keep marijuana illegal, legalize it, legalize it only for medicinal purposes, decriminalize it, and not sure.
Keeping marijuana illegal, the position that SAM supports, scored just 16% support.
Legalizing marijuana was by far the largest response with 49% of the vote, legalizing just medical marijuana had 29% of the vote, and decriminalize had 5% support. That’s 83% support for removing the illegal status of marijuana at the federal level.
The result is surely a rebuke to the anti-marijuana group who’d commissioned the poll. They tried to put the best face on results that showed little support for attorney general Jeff Sessions’ war on weed.
“These results clearly indicate the oft-touted vast public support for marijuana legalization has a shakier foundation than marijuana investors would have you believe,” SAM president Kevin Sabet said in a statement. “This should give pause to politicians and marijuana financiers alike.”
If 49% of the country now wants to legalize marijuana, this should not give pause to politicians and marijuana financiers.
But who are these anti-legalization forces? VICE News did look into who’s funding the anti-marijuana movement and found a tie for the SAM’s third-largest donation of 2016. VICE found two half-million-dollar donations, one of which “was $500,000 from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company known for selling the painkiller fentanyl in the form of a sublingual spray. The company and some former employees have faced lawsuits and criminal charges over the way the drug was marketed.”
That donation was to oppose Arizona’s 2016 Prop. 205 vote campaign to legalize recreational marijuana, which did fail by a close 51-49 margin.
“Insys has said it opposes legalization because federal regulators have not approved marijuana for medical use and because the proposed law ‘fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children,’” Keegan Hamilton writes at VICE News. “But the company is also developing products that use pharmaceutical cannabinoids, a synthetic version of marijuana.”
SAM has also formed a number of state-level PACs. Other donors in Insys’ league in donations against the Arizona marijuana effort were Discount Tire ($1 million donated), the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry ($918,000 donated), and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson ($500,000 donated).
But anti-pot donations like these are not limited to Arizona. Adelson, founder of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and a titan in the conservative donor community, kicked down a total of $5 million in 2016 marijuana initiatives nationwide, also including Florida, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
In addition to a few other big-player donors (and likely many other smaller donors, too) SAM received 2016 campaign contributions in states with legalization campaigns from businesses like U-Haul ($25,000 in Arizona), as well as used-car company DriveTime CEO Ernie Garcia ($250,000 in Arizona), and Publix supermarket chain heir Carol Jenkins Barnett ($800,000 in Florida).
SAM’s donor list and tactics here give us an insight into how they’ll wage the many state legalization battles yet to come. They’ve certainly won their share of fights, though this outcome shows the degree of public opinion momentum they’re up against.
Prohibitionists may use future polls with different ways of wording the question that get them better polling results. Maybe someday they’ll get better headlines for their polls.
After all, the “not sure” demographic is still up for grabs. A whole one percent.