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Republican support for marijuana legalization edges up again in poll

Michael Walsh
·Reporter
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A slim majority of Republicans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the United States, according to a new poll.

Gallup conducted its annual poll on the American public’s opinions on cannabis on Oct. 1-10 and found that 66 percent of respondents think it should no longer be illegal. That’s a new high since Gallup first surveyed Americans on marijuana back in 1969 — when only 12 percent supported legalization.

According to the poll results, Democrats and independents support legalization at 75 percent and 71 percent respectively. These groups have supported legal marijuana for nearly a decade. It took until last year for a slight majority of Republicans, 51 percent, to support this view. This year that figure inched up 2 percentage points to 53 percent.

Former House Speaker John Boehner at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, 2018, in Des Moines. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Former House Speaker John Boehner at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, 2018, in Des Moines. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Conservatives who are still fighting the culture wars of the 1960s — like Attorney General Jeff Sessions — and evangelical Christians oppose legalization on moral grounds. Liberals generally support it as a civil-liberties issue and because criminal penalties for possession fall disproportionately on minorities. But the issue also crosses some ideological lines: libertarian conservatives typically support legalization and have opposed the war on drugs even when it enjoyed bipartisan support.

The latest figures for Republicans could signal that last year’s results weren’t a fluke and that the party’s voters are gradually moving toward liberalization — even if their leadership is not.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference on Oct. 16, 2018, at the Justice Department. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference on Oct. 16, 2018, at the Justice Department. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Early in his tenure, Sessions pledged to enforce federal laws against marijuana even in states that have repealed their own prohibitions, an apparent conflict with his support for “states’ rights” on other matters. This caused widespread political pushback, and Sessions has actually done little to carry through on this promise.

The Republican Party’s 2016 platform makes only one reference to marijuana, deploring the trend toward legalization. “The progress made over the last three decades against drug abuse is eroding, whether for cultural reasons or for lack of national leadership. In many jurisdictions, marijuana is virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law,” the platform reads.

President Trump has given conflicting statements of his views on the subject. Trump said on the campaign trail that states should have the right to manage their own marijuana policies for medicinal and recreation use. Then he reversed course after entering office, criticized legalization and suggesting it should be stopped.

But in his latest flip-flop, Trump promised earlier this year to support legislation that would protect the burgeoning marijuana industry.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican who was once “unalterably opposed” to marijuana legalization, now says that he is “all in” on the legal marijuana business. He spoke at a free event hosted by the National Institute for Cannabis Investors on Tuesday — sharing advice on how to capitalize on this “green gold rush.”

A customer shops at the cannabis-themed Kushstock Festival at Adelanto, Calif. (Photo: Richard Vogel/AP)
A customer shops at the cannabis-themed Kushstock Festival at Adelanto, Calif. (Photo: Richard Vogel/AP)

“The next generation of billion-dollar cannabis companies are ripe for the picking; you just have to make smart moves,” Boehner told would-be investors. “Don’t go blindly investing in this sector because it’s exciting and you don’t want to miss the boat. Cannabis is here to stay, the industry is only getting bigger, and I am all in. With the information we are sharing on Tuesday, one can stake a claim for fractions of what they could be worth weeks or months from now.”

Despite an increasing number of states moving toward legalization, marijuana is still one of the most strictly regulated drugs in the country under federal law. The Food and Drug Administration and DEA classify it as a Schedule I substance, the same category as heroin. That means there’s a “high potential for abuse,” no currently “accepted medical use in treatment” and “a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

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