New polls show ‘overwhelming’ support for legal cannabis in America

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Politico and Harvard just dropped survey numbers on what Americans think about CBD and cannabis legalization, and new data today from the Pew Research Center backs up their findings. The results: Support for cannabis legalization continues to be overwhelming.

The new data set from Politico and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health went in-depth on American’s attitudes, concerns and general thought processes about the controversial plant, as recreational, medical and CBD regulations continue to evolve around the nation.

The survey found slightly more than half of U.S. adults, 52%, know what CBD is. It also found that one in seven Americans, or 15%, openly admit to using CBD products, though it didn’t distinguish between cannabis-derived CBD products and hemp-derived CBD products.  

And for the people who actually know what CBD is, they believe that it is very safe. Only 5% of people reported thinking it’s dangerous.

Legalizing pot is still popular, as 62% of those surveyed in the Politico-Harvard study approved of federal legalization. 69% of those people favored only allowing state-licensed stores to sell weed. Most excitingly, one in three people now support people being able to smoke pot in public spaces in their neighborhood! About half of people said they would be OK with a dispensary opening in their neighborhood as well.

This result was corroborated by a new study from Pew that was published on Thursday. The Pew data found that support for cannabis legalization was at its highest point since the organization started tracking it in 1969, and that it had continued to increase steadily over the past decade. Today, Pew found that 59% of American adults think recreational and medical cannabis should be legal, while 32% think only medical marijuana should be legal. That means, Pew says, an “overwhelming majority” of U.S. adults think medical or recreational cannabis should be legal, clocking in at 91%. Only 8% wanted to keep cannabis legal in all circumstances.

The Pew data pointed to a partisan gap — Democrats were more likely to support legalization than Republicans — but with such a huge buy-in from people across the political spectrum, the issue of cannabis legalization is officially bipartisan.

Things got a bit more unique with questions in the Politico-Harvard study about the FDA, which hinted that the public might have some areas where they want a bit more governmental restraint. 51% of those surveyed believe that CBD products “should be allowed to be sold to the public only if they have been shown to be safe by the FDA, like prescription drugs.” 43% believed CBD should be regulated like a supplement.

One of the folks with his hand in both the cannabis and CBD industries is famed San Francisco breeder and grower Mario “Mr. Sherbinski” Guzman. Sherbinski took a moment to chat with Cannabis Now on the new data.

“Americans are hungry for medicine that they know is safe and they feel comfortable with as they look for alternatives to what the healthcare industry is currently providing them and get more educated on the dangers of prescription drugs,” Sherbinksi said of the one in seven Americans now admitting to personal CBD use. “CBD is emerging as something that works, is safe and is available.”

Sherbinski thinks people in the industry have done a great job normalizing CBD, which is reflected by the high current access levels. He said that he believes the American public will continue to become more accustomed to recreational cannabis, especially when it comes to high-CBD strains that are great medicine but are still technically federally illegal.

“It’s just about education,” Sherbinski said. “People are becoming educated about CBD, but as they move into the needs of all Americans, THC is going to increasingly be a part of the conversation.”

Sherbinski pointed to the entourage effect as a big tool in explaining the need for wider cannabinoid reform to people already accepting of cannabidiol.

Sherbinski’s career has paralleled the major changes in public opinion around legalization. In 2006, only 36% of people supported cannabis legalization and the number would only climb by four percentage points by the end of the decade. We asked Sherbinski if he ever thought he’d see the numbers hit the 62% majority support legalizing marijuana has gained.

“You know not really, I figured it would move a lot slower just seeing the challenges we faced over the last 20 years,” he replied. “But I think through education and the work of people in the cannabis industry… I mean when I started there was just one state.”

Project CBD founder Martin A. Lee also weighed in on the Politico-Harvard study. Lee told Cannabis Now he wasn’t too surprised by the number of people claiming to use CBD.

“You’ve got all these people saying they use CBD, one out of seven, that’s a figure I’ve heard before,” Lee said. “I believe it tends to correspond or validate consumer reports. So that didn’t surprise me because I heard that figure. But what strikes me here is not so many people either tried it or used it, and who knows if the number includes the full scope since some people might be squeamish about talking about it.”

Lee says the cat is out of the bag on the FDA attempting to regulate CBD as a pharmaceutical. He says this leaves two options for CBD, “neither of which are good.”

The first option, Lee says, is that CBD will face heavy regulations that will raise the barrier of entry. The second option is treating it like a supplement, “which is basically not regulated,” he says.

“I would think there are other options, like really regulating well for safety, but easy access might be an option too  — but these questions weren’t part of Politico and Harvard’s framework,” Lee said. “The fact that people want to buy it like vitamins or dietary supplements, it definitely should be available like that. It’s just the whole supplement space should be regulated at least as stringently as cannabis is being regulated in licensed markets like California.”

Lee next spoke on the overall acceptance of CBD’s safety by the public, with only 5% of people who know what it is thinking it’s dangerous.

“Basically that’s correct,” Lee said. “The FDA is desperately searching for harm. They’re trying to fabricate harm to the liver when there is no study that shows that accounting for the presence of really powerful drugs.”

Lee said while CBD isn’t harmful, the quality of the products can be less than excellent, and it might be hard to see any harm right away.

The National Cannabis Industry Association called the new data on public opinion just further evidence to add to the mountain of it showing Americans are ready for a deeper cannabis policy debate.

“This poll reiterates that Americans are ready to end prohibition and are becoming steadily more educated on the issues,” NCIA Media Relations Director Morgan Fox told Cannabis Now. “The fact that we are starting to focus more on how cannabinoids should be regulated rather than if they should be is readily apparent from these responses.”

NORML’s leadership pointed to the poll as evidence that in a time of major political unrest in America, fixing bad pot laws is still bipartisan.

“At a time when the political divides is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now. “With eleven states now having legalized the adult use of cannabis, citizens of all ages and ideologies are seeing the benefits of regulation and rejecting the failed policy of marijuana prohibition. We expect to see public support to continue to grow in 2020 as more and more states implement sensible cannabis regulatory policies.”

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