On Sept. 21, Franklin & Marshall College released its latest political poll showing Pennsylvanians are emerging with clear eyes in their support for legalizing recreational marijuana. According to the poll of about 400 registered voters, 59 percent of Pennsylvanians say that recreational marijuana should be made legal. Only 31 percent say that it shouldn’t be made legal, with 9 percent undecided. The support and opposition are both the highest and lowest results, respectively, the poll has ever seen.
Support for legal weed is up 3 percentage points since May 2017 and up 19 points since June 2015.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who first suggested the state seek to legalize recreational marijuana in March, spoke to Pittsburgh City Paper while he was in Pittsburgh on Sept. 21. He said this latest poll is mounting evidence that the state government should let Pennsylvanians smoke.
“The public is ahead of the politicians on this issue,” said DePasquale. “They know the way we are dealing with marijuana right now makes no sense. It is time to regulate and tax it. It will be better for the people of Pennsylvania. It will generate tax revenue, it will actually help create jobs, and it will save law enforcement time in trying to prosecute people who are not a threat to society.”
DePasquale noted the support of more than the majority of voters indicates that recreational marijuana is receiving backing from voters across the political spectrum and feels that “even among conservatives, it's growing in support." In April 2016, the state passed a law legalizing medical-marijuana use.
“When you get to 60 percent support, it is not just one group,” said Pasquale. "That means it is really growing across the board."
In the F&M poll, 191 registered Democrats, 152 Republicans and 55 independents responded to the questions. Democrats, who are typically more liberal and provide greater support for legal marijuana, only made up 48 percent of the poll. So, at least an additional 11 percent of Republicans and independents also believe Pennsylvania should legalize recreational marijuana.
Pasquale said that the poll should remind the state legislature that now is the time to act on legalizing recreational marijuana.
“I thought they should have acted before,” said DePasquale. “Especially considering the budget debacle we are in right now. But when you get to 60 percent, it's not just liberals, conservatives or moderates — it's starting to go across the board.”
In 2006, only 22 percent of Pennsylvanians supported legalizing recreational weed, according to past F&M polls. But since then, support has increased, with the exception of a slight decrease in 2014. But 2017 has been a banner year for support of recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, with support largely outweighing opposition. Patrick Nightingale, of marijuana-advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML, says the rising approval is not just attributed to less stigma, but also from noting the benefits that come to state governments.
“People in Pennsylvania read the news, they see the shows, they see the progress in other parts of the country,” says Nightingale. “We need property-tax relief, our schools needs more funding, and we have a gigantic deficit in the state budget. They know recreational marijuana can help that.”
DePasquale said in March that Pennsylvania could see $200 million in additional revenue if the state legalized and regulated recreational marijuana. In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, 2016 brought in $200 million in weed-related revenue, and the state of Washington brought in $256 million, according to VS Strategies, a pro-legalization research company in Denver.
And some local officials are ready and waiting for Pennsylvania to join the eight other states, and Washington, D.C., in having legal recreational marijuana available.
“I just think Pennsylvania should go full Colorado,” says Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. “We have a budget deficit right now, and we have this substance that we can legalize. We can make it safe, take it out of the shadows, we could tax it. We could put those dollars toward whatever we as a commonwealth decide to do.”
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