While the public opinion polls released over the past few years have shown that majority of the great America populous supports the concept of legalizing marijuana, a new report by Vox in conjunction with Morning Consult finds that this pro-legalization stance on illicit substances seems to only apply to weed, and that most U.S. citizens still believe people who use drugs like cocaine and heroin should be locked away in prison.
The latest survey of almost 2,000 registered U.S. voters tells the tale of an America rising up from the ashes of decades of marijuana prohibition, but not enough to throttle the issue into the halls of Congress to force about any policy reform. When the respondents were asked whether they support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for “recreational” purposes, 52 percent said they were in favor of this move while 43 percent opposed. The other 5 percent was without a concrete opinion on the issue.
However, once the survey shifted its focus to marijuana for “medical” use, an overwhelming majority of the people raised up to voice a positive sentiment: 68 percent reported being in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana with only 27 percent opposed. The remaining 5 percent continued to suffer from indifference.
And while legal, pharmaceutical versions of methamphetamine and heroin are two of the most commonly prescribed and abused substances in the United States, nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they opposed the medicinal use of these drugs.
When respondents were asked if they support or oppose the decriminalization of specific drugs, defined by “no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount of that drug for personal use,” marijuana was the only substance that garnered majority support: 59 percent said that cannabis users should not be treated like criminals. However, a huge majority of the respondents reported a strong opposition to the decriminalization of every other feel-good substance from cocaine to psilocybin.
This is a bizarre find, especially considering that a 2014 poll from the Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of Americans believe “the government should focus more on providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs” rather than continuing to treat the issue within the criminal justice system.
There is speculation that the latest poll reveals a harsher attitude towards drugs than previous reports because the respondents were not given any indication that a first time drug offender could be punished in any other way, for example, with a fine. Had this option been presented, there is a distinct possibility that the outcome would have been more favorable for decriminalization across the board. But the reaction is clear — at least with regards to this particular poll — most Americans believe there should be criminal penalties, including prison time, for people with substance abuse problems.
The latest Vox poll resembles the results of major national surveys like Gallup and Pew Research Center when it comes to the public opinion surrounding the legalization of marijuana, but the numbers also offer a frustrating glimpse into the reality that the majority of the nation is nowhere near ready to rally in support of a total ceasefire to the War on Drugs.
As Vox’s German Lopez pointed out in his analysis of the survey, “If drug policy reformers want to pull back criminalization on other drugs… they still have a lot of work to do with the American public.”