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3 Out of 4 Americans Oppose Federal Crackdown on Legal Cannabis

September 28, 2017
Rear view of four young people carrying american flag while running outdoors

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

“Aren’t you worried about your job?”

Friends and relatives started asking me that question late last year. I still get it a couple times a month.

The subtext is unspoken: You know, what with Jeff Sessions ready to destroy the legal cannabis industry and all.

With each passing day, polls show more Americans opposing Jeff Sessions' position on legal cannabis.

This is what I tell them: “My worry shrinks with every passing day.”

The decline of my anxiety doesn’t rely solely on the passage of time. It’s backed by data. Seemingly every season, more and more Americans come to oppose the cruel and wrongheaded cannabis position of our attorney general.

In early 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 71% of Americans opposed any sort of federal intervention in states where voters approved legal marijuana. By late summer, that number had grown to 75%. Three out of four Americans now believe the federal government should leave states alone when it comes to cannabis.

In that same period, the percentage of Americans who support a federal crackdown moved from 22% to 20%—numbers that fall into tinfoil-hat territory. (A little context can be clarifying. 18% of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth. 15% believe the government sends mind-control technology via TV broadcast signals. 7% believe the moon landing was faked. 7% also think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.)

These Are Astonishing Numbers

The latest Quinnipiac numbers on cannabis didn’t get much play when they came out last month, largely because they were buried under sexier news—namely, the historically high (84%) disapproval rating Americans gave to Congress. The data came to light during a presentation by political consultant Celinda Lake, founder of Lake Research Partners, at a political conference organized by NORML earlier this month in Washington, DC.

The figures Lake flashed on the screen in a conference room of the Capital Hilton were astonishing. 61% of Americans now think the adult use of cannabis should be made legal in the United States. 94% of Americans believe doctors should be able to legally prescribe, or recommend, medical cannabis to their patients.

Here’s how that looks in a pie chart. (Because both Jeff Sessions and I love pie.)

Jeff Sessions vs. America on medical marijuana:



“This thing is more popular than the  Fourth of July,” Lake said about medical cannabis. Medical legalization “isn’t even an issue anymore,” she added. “The public’s done with that debate.”

As for support for adult use: Expect it to continue to rise as Americans age. Check out this Lake Research graphic charting the generational differences in support:



A strong majority of Americans age 18 to 64 now support legalization. More than three in  four voters age 18 to 34 support adult use. The floor, among those 18 to 64, is now 60%. Only Americans age 65 and older oppose it. And they oppose it strongly—look at that free-fall from 60% to 37% support.

Why the generation gap? I have a theory.

Something happened to cannabis in America between 1968 and 1971. It blew up on college campuses across the nation.

Four Years That Changed Everything

In the spring of 1967, only 5% of college students said they’d tried marijuana.. Two years later, that figure was 22%. By the fall of 1971, 55% of all college students were experienced with cannabis. Nearly one-third said they consumed at least once a month.

Source: Gallup; “The Nature and Extent of Marijuana Use in the United States” (Harrison et al)

Let’s connect some dots. A college freshman in 1967, when cannabis was rare, is now 68 years old. A freshman in 1971, when cannabis was common, is now 64. The huge legalization support gap we’re seeing in today’s polls may rest in part on a difference in personal experience and a cannabis comfort level that was established nearly 50 years ago. In 1967, the Beatles dropped psychedelic rock on the world with Sgt. Pepper. By 1971, the Fab Four had disbanded and John Lennon was going full primal-scream with the Plastic Ono Band. A hell of a lot changed in those four years.

A Male-Female Split in Opinion

Americans over 65 remain skeptical of adult-use legalization, but they’ve changed their minds on medical use—many because of personal experience. More women (35%) than men (32%) oppose adult-use legalization, but more men (7%) than women (2%) oppose medical use.

Here’s a graphic from Lake Research, working with a recent CBS News poll:

On that male-female split, I have a hypothesis I call the Healing Cranky Husbands theory. Older men tend to be stubborn about their health. They’d rather bitch and moan than actually do something about their pain and restless nights. Their wives eventually get fed up and pick up a tincture, vape pen, or edible for their husbands. Dammit Ed, shut up and suck on this pen for a few seconds. See what it does for ya.

Women who speak out are the most powerful force in the legalization movement.

Also, it’s not right or fair, but more women than men bear the burden of family caregiving. They’re more likely to have ground-level experience with the necessity of compassion.

They’re also a powerful political force. Moderate and conservative voters tend to discount medical marijuana advocacy when it comes from the mouths of men, who are too easily stereotyped and dismissed as stoners. Women—especially mothers of medical marijuana patients, and older family caregivers—are almost impossible to dismiss on this issue. Look at the progress that MMJ leaders like Christine Stenquist and Enedina Stanger have achieved in Utah; what Renee Petro and Jacel Delgadillo did for Florida; what Heather Shuker and others continue to do in Pennsylvania.

So yes, the data give me a growing confidence. 94% of Americans are backing medical marijuana patients against Jeff Sessions. Perhaps more importantly, women like Shuker, Stenquist, Stanger, Petro, and Delgadillo are out front, giving the issue a courageous and politically powerful face. Am I worried about my job? No. But Jeff Sessions should be worried about his.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Brad Yale

    Cannabis is the best medicine. I feel better using it. I have forgotten what means muscle spasms. Thanks to AnnCannMed. They helped me to treat myself.

    • Zoey Thompson

      I’ve just bought cannabis oil from them. The salesperson was nice and the order process is simple. Many thanks to their staff for their stealth packaging.

    • SandyLester

      Is that online? Or local? Balms with high CBDs are perfect for arthritis……pain free 6-8 hours one application.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, but, but, but, I can go get legal heroin or meth from the doctor…. time to let people be free to make their own choices.

    • nixnoutz

      Time to criminalize lobbying and government payola. It’s also a crime what the government has done to social security.

  • Add my vote for the feds to get out of marijuana control of any kind.

    • nixnoutz

      Rightly so. Before Tricky Dick was in office dyn-o-mite weed was delivered to the U.S.A. by the duffel bag full.

  • SgtMAD

    this is great, polling is really going to save the day

    you are forgetting who the enemy is in all this,the feds could snuff the whole legal weed business with a couple of big raids in two or three states,that would kill any incentive to invest millions of dollars in the weed business,

    the argument that the dea does not have enough agents to bust every story is a false argument, they do not need to,all they need to do is create a panic in the ownership of these places,almost all of them being owned by law biding,upright citizens in your community that have zero desire to be harassed by the feds or the threat of jail time

    then big pharma steps in and takes over the business and screws all of us

    • Ginin Abottle

      You’re absolutely right. That’s what is going to happen and we’re all gonna get screwed because people aren’t doing anything just complaining. I can’t do anything because I’ve got 7 different chronic diseases and I don’t know about you, maybe you’re too old or something but A LOT of people just aren’t doing anything. You’re ALL GOING TO GET SCREWED!

  • randolini

    I was brainwashed in the Navy from 65 to 69. I found out the truth in 72. I never considered myself a stoner, but more a conscientious user. I’m 71 now and retired after 40 years at the same job 9 months ago. I went to the garage last night about an hour before bed and hit the pipe twice. Slept like a baby. Damn you Harry Anslinger and Richard Nixon, may you both burn in hell and I don’t believe hell.

  • Robert Johnson

    They LOST the drug war, a war rooted in ignorance and bigotry, lies and ridiculousness for over 45yrs, and they MUST surrender IMMEDIATELY. The 2 main objectives of the war on drugs were to reduce crime, and stifle the flow of drugs into America. Looking at the crimes rates from 1960-2015, 1 sees the crime rate soared from 1971-1992, and as the states have legalized cannabis, the crime rate has plummeted, PROVING the best thing that couldve happened to the crime rate in America in 1971, was to legalize cannabis, something Nixon’s own commision recommended after performing over 50 studies on this amazing plant. Clearly NO ONE would agree theres less drugs in America today than in 1971, so despite tripling their budgets in the 70s, more record budgets and the mass incarceration with a mass prison building thru the 80s, 90s, and thru today, Law Enforcement and DOJ failed their objectives, and its time the men in orange for victimless crimes, as they leave their cells, exchange uniforms with the boys in blue as they enter the cage, because these ARE NOT ppl who should be allowed to be remembered as honorable and courageous men and women who put their lives on the line everyday to protect our rights, WHAT A LOAD OF SHT. If I can go to prison for possessin gthe most beneficial plant known to man, these brainwashed imbeciles whove caused SO MUCH HARM, deserve to suffer the indignity and humility of being in a cage, as MOST are in there for harming no one. When are ppl gonna start to write about this HUGE injustice, and DEMAND the truth b told as our gvmt REALLY knows it, and FORCE them to admit they sacrificed the ppl of this gr8 nation, to protect the profits of billionaires.

  • Ginin Abottle

    Oh yeah? And what are you guys going to do about it? Jeff is just going to go in and trample this industry. And what are you guys gonna do about it? Huh? That’s right. NOTHING BECAUSE NO ONE HERE CARES ENOUGH! *whines*

  • The decision to legalize cannabis for adults over 21 in the Washington State constitution has led to new business formation, significant numbers of jobs within the State, and significant tax revenues for the State. Adults over 21 can make their own decisions about cannabis. Not really any significant noticeable negatives on a societal scale. We’ve tested it for the nation. Legalization works, try it and then pass it along…..