Editorial: Support for legalization growing


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As more and more states and municipalities test the waters of legalizing medical marijuana, some have argued that Iowa’s conservative roots would prevent a similar effort from getting through the Legislature. Outside of the major population centers, this line of reasoning goes, support for controversial policies such as medical marijuana loses momentum, especially as the use of marijuana decreases.

But poll results released Tuesday paint a different picture. The University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll, a survey of approximately 1,000 Iowans, found 59.3 percent of respondents from all age groups support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The poll’s findings come as the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and some Iowa legislators weigh reforms to local marijuana laws. The supervisors met Tuesday with state legislators and voiced support for policy changes, including legalizing medical marijuana and the decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On this issue, the supervisors seem to side with the young.

Like most polls conducted on the topic, a generation gap emerges in the Hawkeye Poll data. Two-thirds of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 favored legalizing medical marijuana, and almost three in five between the ages of 35 to 54 and 55 to 69 did as well (57.5 and 59.6 percent, respectively).

What’s interesting about these results is that the use of marijuana seems to vary little among younger age groups, and yet the opinions between them on whether its use is harmful differ widely.

When asked if they had ever tried marijuana, nearly half (49.7) percent of 18- to 34-year-olds reported trying it, while 47.7 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds had as well. The numbers decline as age increases. Only 11.5 percent of those 70 and older had tried marijuana.

On whether marijuana use is harmful, only 45.2 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said it is, compared with 63.4 percent among those ages 35-54. The difference is striking, and reflects a growing segment of the population that no longer believes in the supposed harms of marijuana, at least for those in pain and suffering seeking its potent medical properties.

Despite only a 2-point difference in use of marijuana, opinions on its harm vary by nearly 20 percent between these two age groups. It’s not that younger people all use marijuana. Even without increased exposure to it, the stigma behind marijuana as a gateway to abuse seems to be fading.

It seems this younger generation — which grew up with programs such as D.A.R.E. and the nationwide war on drugs — has come to realize that the things they have been told (and are still told) about marijuana simply aren’t true.

The federal government stubbornly clings to marijuana’s Schedule I classification (meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment) while 20 states have utilized medical marijuana, some for years.

On this issue, the young are practical. They understand that drug use, even one they mostly think isn’t harmful like marijuana, comes with risks. More in the 18-34 age group oppose recreational legalization (49 percent) than favor it (43.9 percent).

But they also understand that the prohibition of potentially life-saving medicine simply doesn’t make sense. The Iowa Pharmacy Board voted unanimously to recommend medical marijuana in 2010, and with this latest poll, there’s also clear agreement among those that will shape Iowa’s future.

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