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Support For Medical Marijuana Increasing in Massachusetts

Posted November 14, 2013

Latest survey also finds majority would welcome a dispensary in their community

As the state prepares to enter the next phase of implementing a law that permits the use of marijuana to treat serious medical conditions, public support for the idea is on the rise, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The statewide telephone survey of 517 adults, conducted Nov. 5-11, found that 74 percent support legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, while 21 percent oppose the policy and five percent either were undecided or declined to answer the question. The sample included 467 registered voters, who also approved of the idea by a margin of 72 percent to 23 percent. The margin of error for the sample of 517 adults is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points, and the margin of error for the sample of 467 registered voters is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Click here to view full results from the poll.

Support among registered voters in the latest survey was significantly greater than when the Polling Institute last posed the question to Massachusetts voters a year ago, shortly before they decided the issue in a ballot initiative. In that survey, conducted Oct. 26 - Nov. 1, 2012, 63 percent of registered voters said they supported the policy, compared to 29 percent who opposed it.

The ballot initiative later won approval from voters 63 percent to 37 percent in the Nov. 6, 2012 general election. The law took effect in January, and the state is currently considering applications for licenses to operate up to 35 dispensaries across the state where patients can purchase marijuana.

The Polling Institute’s latest survey found that 61 percent of adults said they would support having a dispensary in their community, while 30 percent said they would be opposed and nine percent said they did not know or declined to answer the question.

Residents were more evenly divided over how confident they are that, under the new law, medical marijuana will be dispensed only to people with a legitimate medical need. Fifty-two percent said they are very confident or somewhat confident that only patients with a legitimate medical need will receive marijuana, while 45 percent said they are not very confident or not at all confident.

And while the survey found significant support for legalizing medical marijuana, respondents were less likely to endorse legalization of marijuana use for all people. Forty-one percent of adults said they back full legalization, while 51 percent said they are opposed, with eight percent either undecided or declining to answer the question. Among adults who said they are registered to vote, 39 supported the idea, 52 percent were opposed, and nine percent were undecided or did not answer the question.

tim_vercellotti_web.jpg“The survey data indicate that Massachusetts residents have embraced the concept of medical marijuana in increasing numbers,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “But a slim majority of those surveyed draw the line at full legalization. Our state does not seem quite ready to join other states in legalizing marijuana for general use.”

More than half of adults – 56 percent – said they are very familiar or somewhat familiar with the state’s plans to license dispensaries to distribute medical marijuana. As familiarity with the plans increased, so did support. Seventy-four percent of respondents who said they were very familiar with the plans also backed legalization of medical marijuana, and the same was true for 81 percent of respondents who said they were somewhat familiar with the proposed licensing of dispensaries. Among survey respondents who said they were not at all familiar with the proposal, only 59 percent supported legalizing medical marijuana.

Views on legalizing medical marijuana also varied by age, education and political partisanship. Eighty-three percent of survey respondents ages 18 to 34 said they support legalizing medical marijuana, compared to 61 percent of adults ages 65 and older. More than three-quarters of college graduates – 78 percent – said they approved of legalizing medical marijuana, compared to 65 percent of adults with a high school diploma or less. More than 70 percent of voters who said they think of themselves as Democrats or independents support legalizing medical marijuana, compared to 56 percent of Republicans.

Familiarity with the state’s plans also was related to support for having a dispensary in the community. Sixty-five percent of those who said they are very familiar with the licensing plans said they would back having a dispensary in their community, compared to 48 percent of survey respondents who said they were not at all familiar with the state’s plans.

“The connection between familiarity with the state’s plans and support for dispensaries provides a helpful signal to state and local officials and potential licensees,” Vercellotti noted. “As public awareness increases, support seems to go up as well. Public education may play an important role as state and local officials consider locations for the dispensaries.”

After stating whether they supported or opposed having a dispensary in their community, survey respondents were asked to say, in a sentence or two, why they supported or opposed having a dispensary in their area. Among supporters, explanations included the need to provide pain relief to seriously ill individuals, the jobs that a dispensary might bring to the community, and the value of having the state regulate the sale and distribution of marijuana to patients.

Survey respondents who said they opposed having a dispensary in their community said they worried about the potential for crime and increased traffic near the dispensaries, and some questioned whether the state could adequately regulate the distribution of medical marijuana. Among those who said they opposed having a dispensary in their community, more than two-thirds – 69 percent – said they were not very confident or not at all confident that marijuana would be dispensed only to people who have a legitimate medical need.

Views on legalization of marijuana use for all people also varied along partisan and demographic lines. Independent voters were most closely divided, with 45 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed, followed by Democrats with 38 percent supporting and 52 percent opposed. Only 19 percent of Republicans endorsed the idea, while 76 percent were opposed.

Opinions also varied by gender, age and education. Fifty percent of men said they support full legalization, compared to 33 percent of women. Forty-eight percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 back full legalization, compared to 25 percent of adults ages 65 and older. Forty-four percent of college graduates and 48 percent of adults with some college support full legalization, compared to 30 percent of respondents with a high school diploma or less.

METHODOLOGY

The Western New England University Polling Institute survey consists of telephone interviews with 517 adults ages 18 and older drawn from across Massachusetts using random-digit-dialing Nov. 5-11, 2013. The sample yielded 467 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts. Unless otherwise noted, the figures in this release are based on the statewide sample of all adults.

Paid interviewers at The Polling Institute dialed household telephone numbers, known as “landline numbers,” and cell phone numbers using random samples obtained from Survey Sampling International of Shelton, CT. In order to draw a representative sample from the landline numbers, interviewers first asked for the youngest male age 18 or older who was home at the time of the call, and if no adult male was present, the youngest female age 18 or older who was at home at the time of the call. Interviewers dialing cell phone numbers interviewed the respondent who answered the cell phone after confirming three things: (1) that the respondent was in a safe setting to complete the survey; (2) that the respondent was an adult age 18 or older; and (3) that the respondent was a resident of Massachusetts. The landline and cell phone data were combined and weighted to reflect the adult population of Massachusetts by gender, race, age, and county of residence using U.S. Census estimates for Massachusetts. The data also were weighted to adjust for cell phone and landline usage based on state-level estimates for Massachusetts from the National Center for Health Statistics. Complete results of the poll are available online at www.wne.edu/news. The text of the questionnaire for this survey is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst.

All surveys are subject to sampling error, which is the expected probable difference between interviewing everyone in a population versus a scientific sampling drawn from that population. The sampling error for a sample of 517 adults is +/- 4.3 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus if 65 percent of adults said they support legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Massachusetts, one would be 95 percent sure that the true figure would be between 60.7 percent and 69.3 percent (65 percent +/- 4.3 percent) had all Massachusetts adults been interviewed, rather than just a sample. The margin of sampling error for the sample of 467 registered voters is +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording, or context effects.

Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research. Additional information about the Polling Institute is available at www1.wne.edu/pollinginst.

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Western New England University is a private, independent, coeducational institution founded in 1919. Located on an attractive 215-acre suburban campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England University serves 3,700 students, including 2,550 full-time undergraduate students. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs are offered through Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Pharmacy, and School of Law.

 

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