Two recent polls by the same outfit have disagreed sharply about how much public support there is for legalizing cannabis. Either 31% or 41% supports the idea, depending on which NYT poll you look at.
Now (via Kevin Drum) the Washington Post comes in with what seems to be a new data point, as part of a larger story looking at softening attitudes on social issues across the board, including gay marriage and immigration. Support for “legalization” is reported at 46%, which would be the highest level I’ve seen.
However, the actual wording of the question was about possession, not about dealing:
Forty-six percent of all respondents said they supported legalizing “possession of small amounts for personal use,” with rates of support higher among men, among younger voters and among independents, a majority of whom supported legalization.
Legalizing possession but not sales is the weird hybrid policy usually referred to as “decriminalization.” It would have the advantage of eliminating several hundred thousand arrests per year, but it wouldn’t eliminate the illicit market or reduce our contribution to the extraordinary violence now shaking northern Mexico. On the contrary, decriminalization would leave what presumably would be a somewhat larger market in the hands of the criminals. Now that might still be a good idea, since the effect of decriminalization alone seems to be small. But it seems to me that once you decide to allow possession for personal use, you might as well allow production for personal use.
In any case, the 46% figure can’t be compared with the 31% or 41% from the NYT polls. It’s about a different issue.
Still, I doubt that even the decrim question would have gotten that much support in any poll since the beginning of the second War on Drugs in 1979. This is clearly not an issue the Obama Administration intends to take up anytime soon, but when and if it does there seems to be some running room.