May 6, 2017/Matt Walstatter
Cannabis is hot! It’s sexy and exciting. There is constant news coverage of cannabis, so it must be important. We hear numbers like there was more than $6 billion in legal retail cannabis sales last year, so it’s clearly big business. It seems like every week a state decriminalizes, passes a CBD law or legalizes medical or recreational use. So we know that the increasing visibility of cannabis has been accompanied by increasing acceptance and support.
But we are still left to wonder just who is using cannabis and who is supporting legalization. Which Americans are joining this revolution?
Last month, the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion, home of the Marist Poll, released the results of a poll commissioned by Yahoo! News to learn more about Americans’ perceptions of cannabis. The results were highly instructive to those of us interested in not just the what, but the who and why behind cannabis legalization.
First the fine print: The Marist Poll is the central endeavor of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion. It is widely regarded as one of the most successful, trusted and respected polling organizations in the nation, earning high marks from NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. For this particular poll, they surveyed 1,122 American adults from March 1 thru March 7, 2016. Calls were made to both mobile and land lines, and interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.
The poll found that 83 percent of Americans eighteen or older support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Among parents, support drops ever so slightly, to 81 percent. Of those who have tried cannabis, 94 percent support legalizing medical, as do 98 percent of regular users (who consume cannabis once a month or more).
While this kind of support would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, it’s hardly surprising now. Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia allow some form of medical cannabis. If you count CBD-only laws, the number jumps to 44 percent. Even conservative strongholds like Texas and Georgia have begun to allow the use of CBD.
When asked about legalizing adult use of cannabis, support remained strong. Among U.S. adults, 49 percent support legalizing recreational cannabis. Of those who have tried cannabis, 70 percent support legalizing recreational cannabis. Among regular users, the number jumps to 89 percent.
That means that nearly half of American adults (perhaps more than half when you factor in the poll’s margin of error) support the full legalization of cannabis. This bodes well for those of us working to end prohibition.
Put your money where your mouth is
The poll contained some questions related to finance as well. Of all respondents, 29 percent said they would invest in a cannabis business if it became legal. The poll also showed that 52 percent (and 85 percent of regular users) are comfortable with their bank working in the cannabis space. Respondents who approved of their retirement fund investing in cannabis totaled 51 percent. Of regular users, 80 percent also approved using their retirement fund for investing in cannabis.
It’s one thing to say you support legalization. But it requires much stronger conviction to pony up and risk personal savings on the industry. This finding tells me that we have more than just broad support for the cannabis movement – there is also deep conviction behind that support, evidenced by a willingness to invest in the future of the industry.
Who uses cannabis in the U.S.?
According to the Marist Poll, 52 percent of U.S. adults have tried cannabis at some point in their lives. The poll also showed that 22 percent say they currently use cannabis, while 14 percent label themselves regular users (at least once or twice each month).
Among users, 54 percent are parents, and 30 percent are parents of young children. This tracks very closely with the national averages for all adults. This tells me that most folks aren’t passing on using cannabis simply because they have kids at home, which means that some of the stigma around cannabis has faded.
Just under a third, or 31 percent of cannabis users, have a college degree, compared to 32 percent for all U.S. adults. Nearly half, or 46 percent of cannabis users, earn more than $50,000 per year, compared with only 29 percent of all adults. From this we can deduce that we have cannabis users in all socioeconomic categories and all walks of life. If anything, it appears that tokers are slightly more successful than their non-consuming counterparts.
The poll also looked at party affiliation. Democrats represented 43 percent of users, with 14 percent identifying as Republican and 41 percent as Independent. It’s hardly surprising that Republicans comprise the minority. But it’s interesting to note that they represent a significant minority. This will help the cause of legalization.
Cannabis legalization is one of the few political issues that doesn’t cleave neatly along party lines. Progressive Democrats tend to be the strongest supporters of legalization, but supporters also appeal to some states’ rights Republicans. And people who have watched as a sick friend or relative gets some much needed relief from cannabis tend to buy into the cause, regardless of party affiliation. This bipartisan support will make it much easier to accomplish the descheduling and full legalization of cannabis at the national level.
I was once asked during a lecture what the typical cannabis consumer looks like. I responded with a question of my own: What does a typical beer drinker look like?
The data from this survey shows that, as a group, cannabis consumers look and act just like the rest of America. We have similar educations and similar earnings power. We are male and female. We are black, white and brown. We have children at the same rate, and we all want to leave the world a little better for them.