In yesterday’s Missoulian, embedded in a story about Max Baucus’ plummeting approval ratings, there was a bit of a footnote: only 25% of Montanans support legalizing marijuana.
As with all polls, how you ask the question has a tremendous influence on the answers you get. In this case, the question was:
“Do you support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for personal use by adults?”
It’s known that “the L word”, Legalize, scares a lot of people, probably due to its ambiguity. Legal like tomatoes? Like candy bars? Like prescription drugs? Like vodka? This has led many in drug policy reform to believe the term should be dropped from the debate, except in a more clever form: Re-legalize.
Back in 1998, Montana NORML commissioned a poll by the same MSU Billings office. Our question was something like:
“Do you support or oppose taxing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol?”
The results? 60% of respondents were either neutral or in support of such a system. And this was 11 years ago. The past decade has seen a dramatic shift, particularly in Western states, towards support for removing criminal penalties for marijuana and developing a legal market.
So when I read that only 25% of Montanans support re-legalizing marijuana, I don’t believe it for a minute. Montanans are fiercely independent and strongly support individual liberty. If they’d been asked a better question, the headline could have been something like:
Poll: Majority of Montanans Support Regulated Marijuana Market for Adults: 2011 Legislation Planned
Maybe next time.