One of the more perplexing aspects of contemporary political dialogue is the disconnect between public opinion and the public's perception of public opinion. Case in point: a recent Zogby International poll examining the attitudes of Minnesotans about medical marijuana.
According to the poll, which was commissioned by the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, 78 percent of Minneapolis-St. Paul residents favor legislation that would allow sick people to grow and smoke marijuana. In the suburbs, a hefty 60 percent back such a bill. Even in greater Minnesota, where anti-pot attitudes remain strongest, the figure is 51 percent. Overall, then, statewide support for the measure stands at a stout 59 percent. (Among other things, this suggests that medical marijuana is more popular in Minnesota than the current commander-in-chief.)
However, when asked about the beliefs of their fellow Minnesotans, both urbanites and suburbanites grossly underestimate the level of acceptance for medical pot. Only 43 percent of city folk believe a majority of their fellow Minnesotans would approve of a cancer-stricken neighbor cultivating the sweet leaf. In the suburbs, meanwhile, a meager 19 percent of respondents recognize the fact that Minnesota favors legalization. Conclusion: Minnesotans are more merciful--and, in some regards, more liberal--than they realize. This is especially true in suburbia.
For medical marijuana advocates, such dissonances are a continuing and understandable cause of frustration. Neal Levine, a former Minneapolis resident who now heads up state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, hopes the results of the Zogby poll will embolden Minnesota lawmakers to enact medical marijuana legislation this session. But, Levine notes, perceptions among politicians about public attitudes remain a problem. No legislator wants to be seen as soft on drugs. And with the Office of National Drug Control Policy spending more than $100 million a year on anti-pot advertising, many feel skittish at the mere mention of marijuana.
At the same time, the pro-pot forces have some new ammunition to bolster their argument. This November, 20 states and municipalities nationwide placed medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot. Seventeen of those initiatives passed. Notably, the medical marijuana issue does not split in the classic red state-blue state manner. For instance, in Montana, where 59 percent of voters cast a ballot for Bush and 66 percent supported a ban on gay marriage, the medical pot initiative collected an impressive 62 percent of the electorate.
In other words, while God, guns, and gays may remain the shibboleths of modern American political strategists, it's time to strike another G-word--ganja--from the list.