Poll: Midwesterners favor marijuana legalization more strongly than other Americans

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Cannabis bud. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

People in the Midwest favor legalizing marijuana more strongly than people in any other part of the country, according to a new national opinion survey. The General Social Survey (GSS), conducted biennially by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, has been tracking public opinion on marijuana since 1973.

A majority of respondents in every region favored legalization, but 2018 was the first time that sentiment was strongest in the Midwest. According to the survey results, broken down by four geographical regions, legalization was supported by 68.5 percent of Midwestern respondents, seven percentage points higher than the national total of 61.5 percent in favor.

The Northeast was the second-most supportive region with 63.8 percent in favor. Legalization was supported by 62.9 of respondents in the West (where support has traditionally been strongest), and 56.1 in the South (where support has traditionally been weakest).

The GSS is widely considered to be the most important survey of public opinion on social issues, with the exception of the opinion surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults since 2012. The only Midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana is Michigan, where voters approved a ballot measure in November to allow “the personal possession and use of marihuana [sic] by persons 21 years of age or older.”

Midwestern approval of legalization has increased more than 13 percent since 2016, when GSS found 55.4 percent supported it. This growth is reflected in the most recent Iowa Poll on the subject as well. The poll published last month found 48 percent of Iowans favored legalization, 48 percent opposed it and 4 percent were unsure. The previous Iowa Poll on legalization, published in January 2018, found that only 38 percent favored it, while 58 percent opposed it.

Earlier this month, Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, and regulate it in the same way alcohol is regulated.

“It’s time to face facts. In Iowa, marijuana is available to about anyone that seeks it,” the Iowa City Democrat said in a letter published by Little Village. “Iowans objectively know that it’s less toxic, less addictive and less lethal than the alcohol that is available at every Hy-Vee, Casey’s and Kum and Go.”

“Iowa’s continued prohibition of marijuana imposes a heavy burden on Iowa families in the form of lost jobs, legal bills, jail time, broken families, violence and crime,” Bolkom said. “Why should we keep spending millions and millions each year to arrest, prosecute, jail and punish thousands of Iowans for possessing a substance less harmful than legal alcohol?”

Bolkcom’s bill was referred to a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it died. Even if it had passed the subcommittee, it would not have survived in the judiciary committee, where it was opposed by the chairman.

“I am not open-minded,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, when Bolkcom announced he would file the bill. “If that bill comes to the judiciary committee, it won’t go anywhere.”

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