Depending on which poll you follow most closely, the historic event of a majority of Americans favoring the legalization of marijuana occurred last month (according to Gallup) or last spring (according to Pew Research).Whenever the threshold actually was crossed, even conservative leaning Rasmussen Reports is reporting plurality, though not majority, support.
This clearly is not a blip or bump in public opinion. Here’s the trend as reported by Pew last spring (click to enlarge):
A summary observation: since the early 1990s, the trend line has been gradual but steady, with only small bumps in the road.
Of course, post hoc analysis (looking over our shoulders historically to figure out why something happened) is a risky business, with ample opportunities to forge proof by mapping a carefully chosen selection of facts onto our preferred view of the world. So I won’t claim anything definitive.
But the trend lines match (Cause? Effect? Simple correlation?) the adoption of legalized medical uses of marijuana in this country. What is more, as William A. Galston and E.J Dionne Jr. of the Brookings noted in their May 2013 report, The New Politics of Marijuana Legalization: Why Opinion is Changing, public opinion research has revealed that, while “individuals with a family member who smokes [marijuana recreationally] are no more likely to favor legalization than are those without such a relative, . . . having a family member who uses marijuana for medical as opposed to recreational purposes does dispose individuals to favor legalization.” (emphasis added)
In other words, the experience of being around someone using marijuana to get high doesn’t exactly inspire one to support making that experience more common. Indeed, as Galston and Dionne note, a bare majority of surveyed Americans last spring indicated that they would “feel uncomfortable” if they found themselves around recreational marijuana use.
But it might be said that most of us are inherently uncomfortable around those who are suffering. Our frustration and sense of ineptitude around those who are ill and/or in pain (unless we have the skills to make a positive difference for them) probably trumps our discomfort at the presence of marijuana in such a situation.
Besides . . . medical marijuana is about compassion, about wishing life to be a little easier, a little more comfortable, for those we know who are suffering.
That’s a slam dunk for many of us (82% of Floridians, according to the recent Quinnipiac University poll).
This is how persuasion works. Change in opinion (and here, we are talking about change in individual’s opinions on a massive scale) is achieved, not by confrontation, but by finding common ground and slowly, persistently, nudging that ground in the desired direction.