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POLICY STATEMENT: Regulated & Tested Adult-Use Cannabis Market

National support for legalization of adult-use cannabis has grown from just 27% in 1979 to over 64% in early 2017, according to a Gallup poll. Colorado was the first state to legalize adult-use on November 6, 2012. It did so through a voter-initiated ballot proposal to amend its constitution.

CBS Poll resultsWhen work on Colorado's Amendment 64 began in 2011, national support for legalization of adult-use cannabis stood at just 40%. In the intervening six years, seven additional states followed suit, legalized adult-use cannabis by constitutional amendment or by legislative initiative. During the six years from 2011 to 2017, national support for adult-use grew by over 20%. It is significant in the context of the NY political landscape to note that no state has legalized the regulated use of cannabis or marijuana by adults through the legislative process as of May, 2017, although Vermont is close to doing so.

Much of the reason the continued increase in public support for legalizing adult-use cannabis stems from the fact that none of the dire warnings of opponents have materialized. Voters were warned that teen use would rise, traffic accidents would skyrocket and violent crime would increase if adult-use were legalized. In fact, figures cited by the Washington Post show that teen use in Colorado and Washington State actually declined since the first retail stores opened there. Traffic fatalities have also declined and violent crime has not increased.

Washington kids not going to pot

Teen pot use drops sharply in Colorado

Since the first retail marijuana stores opened in Colorado in 2014, national public support has risen an additional 10%, from 51% to 64%. Tax revenues have been larger than expected and although the incidence of traffic fatalities involving cannabis use has increased, this can largely be attributed to the fact that testing for the presence of cannabis has rarely been done prior to legalization.

NY voters have followed a similar trajectory. Siena College polled NY voters five times during the first half of 2014 on the question “Looking beyond the issue of medical marijuana, two states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized and regulated marijuana for recreational use. Do you support or oppose passing a similar law in NY to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use?” They asked NY voters again in 2016 “To what extent do you support or oppose legalizing the regulated sale of marijuana for recreational use in New York by adults 21 and over?”

As can be seen here, NY voter support for legalizing adult-use cannabis has flipped from 42% support in early 2014 to 53% support in late 2016, with an additional 13% holding a persuadable position of “somewhat opposed.” If half of those can be persuaded, the question of legalizing adult-use cannabis in NY state would have gained the support of about 60% last year. The number of voters with with no opinion also fell from 4.6% to only 3%.

Sienna College Poll results