Polling The Sin Wagon, Part 1: Marijuana

May 26, 2022

About 25 years ago, The Dixie Chicks released a song called “Sin Wagon” that included the lyrics:

Well now I’ve been good for way too long

I’m takin’ my turn on the sin wagon

CPR has never focused on social and cultural issues except as they relate to the quality of North Carolina’s education system and their impact on North Carolina’s economy.  But with news reports indicating this legislative session could be dominated by issues like marijuanagambling and abortion, over the next three days we are going to take our turn on the “Sin Wagon.”

Today, we’ll tackle public opinion on marijuana legalization. Friday we will focus on gambling issues. And Monday we will take a close look at voters’ thoughts on abortion.

Over the past decade, various municipalities and states around the country have taken steps to destigmatize the use of marijuana or authorize its use as a treatment for certain illnesses and medical conditions. Some governments have moved to decriminalize marijuana possession, others have adopted laws allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana as a medicine, and some governments have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The general impact of this trend has been to make using marijuana socially acceptable.

This NCSL map illustrates the legal status of marijuana around the country:

Rep. Pat McElraft led North Carolina’s first legislative effort dealing with marijuana legalization back in 2015, when the state legalized cannabis oils for the treatment of certain medical conditions. Her bill passed the legislature almost unanimously and was signed into law by former Governor Pat McCrory.

Last year, Sen. Bill Rabon went a step further and introduced legislation authorizing the use of medical marijuana. Rabon’s bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of medical conditions and illnesses and authorize a limited number of cannabis pharmacies to fill marijuana prescriptions.

In our pre-session survey, we asked voters two questions about marijuana:

  1. Would you support or oppose the General Assembly legalizing medical marijuana for patients with a prescription from a doctor?
  2. Would you support or oppose the General Assembly legalizing recreational marijuana for adults?

The results surprised us: NC Statewide Survey Marijuana

82% of voters supported the legalization of medical marijuana, including 57% of voters who strongly supported the proposal. And voter support for the proposal wasn’t just deep – it was broad. 75% of Republicans, 87% of Unaffiliateds and 86% of Democrats back the measure. At least 78% of male and female, white and black, liberal, moderate and conservative voters support medical marijuana. Even 77% of evangelical voters support medical marijuana. In fact, it would be hard for us to point to an issue that we’ve surveyed in the last decade that unified our polarized electorate like legalizing medical marijuana does.

Legalizing recreational marijuana doesn’t enjoy quite the breadth of support medical marijuana does but the results were an even bigger surprise to us. 60% of voters support legalizing recreational marijuana and 38% oppose it. There were partisan differences: 67% of Unaffiliateds and 68% of Democrats support recreational marijuana, but a majority of Republicans (53%) oppose it. There also was a dramatic split between evagelical voters (46% opposed the measure) and non-evangelical voters (who supported legalization 80% to 19%.)

At this point, it seems pretty clear that it is only a matter of time until medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use are legalized in North Carolina. It will be important for legislators and regulators to carefully think through authorizing language. They should aim to limit the negative societal impacts that accompany substance abuse and to generate a sufficient amount of revenue to address them.