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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 05:00 PM ET, 01/18/2010

Medical marijuana popular as N.J., D.C. near legalization

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds broad support for the legalization of medical marijuana - a move currently underway in New Jersey and the District of Columbia - and a majority says that if it is legalized, it should be available to any patient who gets a prescription.

More than eight in 10 in the new poll back legal medical marijuana, up significantly from a Post-ABC poll conducted in May 1997. Most, 56 percent, say if it is legalized it should be available to any patient, one in five favor a system where it would be available only to the terminally ill and the same share say it should be available to those with serious, non-fatal illnesses.

The shift in views coincides with growing support for the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Overall, nearly half of all Americans, 46 percent, now back this idea, unchanged from this spring, but more than double the proportion saying so in the late 1990s.

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Medical marijuana

Q. Regardless of what you think about the personal non-medical use of marijuana, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes to treat their patients?

Q. Should it be limited to patients who are terminally ill and near death; or also allowed for patients who have serious but not fatal illnesses; or should it be allowed for any patient the doctor thinks it could help?

With New Jersey set to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes and the District of Columbia making moves to do the same, the effort to legalize medical marijuana appears to be gaining traction on the eastern seaboard. Of the 13 other states where medical marijuana has been legalized, only Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island are on the east coast.

Though there are not differences in support for the overall idea of legalized medical marijuana by region, those in the West are less apt to say it should be available to any patient (46 percent, compared with 54 percent in the Northeast and 60 percent in the Midwest and South). Westerners are more apt to favor a middle ground, allowing medical marijuana for those with serious but not fatal illnesses (29 percent) than limiting it only to those terminally ill and near death (22 percent).

Support for medical marijuana is highest among liberals (92 percent), moderates (87 percent), college graduates (86 percent), Democrats and independents (both 85 percent favor) and non-seniors (83 percent).

On the broader question of legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, Americans are largely divided, with sharp fissures by age, ideology and party.

Majorities of those under age 40 support legalizing personal-use marijuana, compared with about half of those age 40-64 and just 23 percent of seniors. In a departure from typical gender gaps, men are more apt to favor more liberal marijuana laws than are women (51 percent vs. 42 percent).

By party, Democrats are most apt to favor legalized marijuana (53 percent), while independents are about evenly split (49 percent favor it, 50 percent oppose) and Republicans tilt against legalization (32 percent favor to 66 percent oppose).

Q. In general, do you favor or oppose legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use?

            Favor   Oppose   No opinion
1/15/10      46       51          2
4/24/09      46       52          2
10/24/02*    39       53          8 
5/27/97      22       75          3 
8/26/86      25       74          1 
5/19/86      22       77          1 
4/28/86      23       75          1 
3/24/86      21       78          1 
5/13/85      26       72          2
*Time/CNN: "Do you favor or oppose the legalization
of marijuana? (IF FAVOR) What about in small amounts,
for example three ounces or less? Do you favor or oppose 
the legalization of marijuana in small amounts?"

Q. Regardless of what you think about the personal non-medical use of marijuana, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes to treat their patients?

          Should   Should not   No opinion                                  
1/15/10     81         18            1
5/27/97     69         27            4

Q. If doctors are allowed to prescribe marijuana to patients, should it be limited to patients who are terminally ill and near death; or also allowed for patients who have serious but not fatal illnesses; or should it be allowed for any patient the doctor thinks it could help?

          Terminally   Serious/      Any       No                          
             ill       not fatal   patient   opinion                        
1/15/10      21           21         56         2
5/27/97      29           13         52         6

SOURCE: This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 12-15, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,083 adults including users of both conventional and cellular phones. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. Error margins are larger for subgroups. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  05:00 PM ET, 01/18/2010

Categories:  Post Polls

 
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