Cannabis News of Note for the Week:
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Politico Pro Cannabis: Most Americans back Biden’s moves to loosen weed restrictions, poll finds (paywalled, full text below)
Politico Pro Cannabis: Most Americans back Biden’s moves to loosen weed restrictions, poll finds
BY PAUL DEMKO | 01/18/2024 02:15 PM EST
A majority of Americans support President Joe Biden’s efforts to loosen federal marijuana restrictions, and the biggest backing came from the youngest voters, according to a recently conducted nationwide poll.
Among likely voters, 58 percent expressed support for the Biden administration’s recent recommendation to move marijuana to a less stringent classification under federal law, while just 19 percent indicated opposition.
“The voters are way, way ahead of where the politicians are at,” said Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster whose firm Lake Research Partners conducted the survey. “This is just completely non-controversial to them.”
Support for loosening weed restrictions cuts across all demographic groups and political affiliations, but was highest among 18- to 25-year olds: 65 percent supported the administration’s moves and just 14 percent opposed.
Lake argued that the issue could prove particularly important in the presidential contest, given that support for Biden among young voters has eroded since the start of the war in Gaza.
“What should be a base group has ended up … kind of a swing group,” said Lake, who worked on Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. “They’re the most susceptible to looking at a third party. They’re the biggest group of people who don’t like either candidate. And so you’ve got a group of swing voters who are just incredibly supportive and intense on this issue.”
The lowest levels of support for loosening marijuana restrictions were expressed by older voters and Republicans. Among likely voters 65 and older, 40 percent supported reclassifying marijuana while 25 percent opposed it. The split was similar — 41 to 31 percent in favor — among respondents who identified as Republicans.
The poll was commissioned by the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform, which includes industry and advocacy groups that support loosening weed restrictions.
In Oct. 2022, Biden directed his administration to conduct a review of marijuana’s treatment under the Controlled Substances Act. Since that law was enacted in 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I narcotic — the same as heroin — which means it’s deemed to have a high likelihood of abuse and no medical uses.
In August, after conducting a review of scientific evidence, the Food and Drug Administration recommended that marijuana be moved to Schedule III. That classification is for drugs that are believed to have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.”
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a 252-page document laying out the scientific rationale to justify that recommendation. It concluded that the drug has some medical benefits and is less likely to cause harm than other dangerous narcotics.
The final determination on reclassification will be made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. There’s no deadline for when that decision must be reached, but most cannabis policy watchers expect it in the first half of this year.
Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a highly dangerous, illegal drug, state legalization has spread rapidly across the country over the last decade. Two dozen states — representing more than half of the country’s population — have now legalized possession and use for anyone at least 21 years old, while 38 states have established medical programs.
In the poll, support for changing marijuana’s classification was even stronger among respondents when the question was framed as whether Biden should accept HHS’ recommendation. When presented with that scenario, two thirds of voters indicated the president should follow the recommendation, while just 13 percent said he should try to block it.
Even when voters were presented with arguments both in favor and against loosening restrictions on marijuana, support for reclassification remained robust, the poll found.
On the pro side, for example, voters were told that it would “provide struggling farmers with a source of legitimate income, create jobs, and bring in significant tax revenue.”
And the argument against warned that Biden’s action would provide “massive profits to pharmaceutical companies” and still lead to “hundreds of thousands of Americans behind bars for marijuana-related offenses.”
After hearing the arguments, voter sentiments were virtually unchanged: 58 percent support and 18 percent opposition.
The issue also seemingly has the potential to boost Biden’s persistently tepid approval ratings. After respondents were informed about the administration’s moves to reclassify marijuana, his net approval rating swung 11 points — although he was still underwater at 51 percent disapproval.
The Lake Research Partners poll included 900 likely voters reached by either phone calls or text messages. It was conducted in early October and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Lake doesn’t believe anything has changed significantly in the time since the survey was conducted that would alter public perceptions on cannabis policy.
“It’s probably gotten even more important in the ensuing three months because of the impact of the war in Gaza on attitudes of young people,” she said, “but nothing that would have changed these numbers.”