Legalization: More Americans Say 'No'

The majority of Americans are reluctant to favor the complete legalization of marijuana for any purpose, despite efforts to liberalize marijuana laws in states across the country, according to a new AP-CNBC poll. Fifty-five percent of the people surveyed said they oppose complete legalization, while one-third of the country is in favor of the idea. (Read all the poll results here.)

Americans’ reluctance to legalize the drug is only marginally tempered by the presumed economic benefits of legalization—an argument being increasingly used by marijuana proponents in cash-starved states. Just 14 percent of the respondents that originally opposed legalization said they would reconsider if the drug was taxed and the money aided state programs and services.

As for the ability of marijuana to improve the economy (as some online voters had suggested to President Obama when he conducted his first cyber “Town Hall” shortly after taking office), a majority of Americans (46 percent) believe legalized pot sales would have no effect on the economy, though roughly one-third of the population disagrees, saying marijuana would make the economy better. And the majority of those polled said marijuana would have no effect on the number of jobs in their communities.

That said, a good number of people see revenue possibilities. Assuming the sale and possession of marijuana were actually legal, 62 percent of the 1,001 people surveyed by telephone in the early April poll favored taxing sales of the drug. Twenty-eight percent opposed.

But the country apparently favors a low tax rate. The majority of respondents felt that a rate somewhere between 10 percent and 25 percent would be appropriate.

Perhaps speaking to the public’s general mistrust of government, more than half the country (54 percent) would prefer marijuana, if legalized, be sold by private businesses, while 36 percent would rather see the government handle it, based on the poll results.

A birds eye view of Mendocino county, California.
A birds eye view of Mendocino county, California.

But Americans are not eager to invest in a marijuana company. Three-quarters of respondents said they would not be interested in investing in a private company that sold marijuana, should it become legal. However, if a company in which they currently owned shares were to venture into the marijuana business, most Americans, 48 percent, said it would have no effect on their investment.

Americans’ opposition softened when asked about limited legal use for for medical purposes. Sixty percent support the legalization of small amounts for such a purpose. About half that amount, 28 percent, oppose the idea. Yet roughly three-fourths of the country believes marijuana has a real medical benefit.

Nevertheless, the poll results indicated a good portion of people in the country have concerns about the health effects of the drug. More of the people surveyed believed marijuana would harm the overall health of the country (46 percent). Thirty-nine percent thought it would have no effect. And 13 percent believed marijuana legalization for any use would mostly improve the health of the people.

The idea that marijuana is a "gateway drug" that pushes people on to harder, destructive drugs, received some support in the poll (39 percent), though nearly half the country believes marijuana has no effect on whether people will use more serious drugs.

The AP-CNBC pollshowed Americans are divided on whether the cost of enforcing current marijuana laws is acceptable, with 45 percent telling pollsters the cost is too high, and 48 percent deeming it acceptable. As for crime? Again, major divisions:

If the sale and possession of marijuana were made legal,

  • 34 percent say it will increase crime
  • 32 percent it will reduce crime
  • 33 percent say it will have no effect on crime
  • 1 percent did not know

Interestingly, the country is nearly equally divided on whether marijuana should be regulated more heavily than alcohol.

While 43 percent of the population believes marijuana regulations should be stricter than regulations for alcohol, more of those surveyed—44 percent—said marijuana and alcohol should share the same level of regulation. Just 12 percent told pollsters regulations on marijuana should be less strict than those for alcohol.

The AP-CNBC poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, and has a margin-of-error factor of plus/minus 4.3 percent.