Support for Medical Marijuana IncreasingTHURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2013 - 4:14 PM
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.
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.
"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.