DHM Senior Associate Testifies on Public Opinion of Marijuana Legalization

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April 2, 2013

To: Oregon Legislature, House Judiciary Committee
Fr: John Horvick, DHM Research
Re: Voter Support for Marijuana Legalization

Good afternoon Rep. Barker and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is John Horvick. I am a Senior Associate at DHM Research. Many of you may know DHM from our more than thirty years of public opinion research in Oregon. We have conducted thousands of studies to measure Oregonians’ attitudes and values on all manners of public policy, from health care, to education, to public safety. Important for this discussion, we are leading experts in the state regarding voter attitudes, and I come to you today with research we have conducted about Oregon voters’ support for marijuana legalization.

Attitudes towards marijuana are quickly evolving. Nationally, researchers from Gallup have been asking Americans whether they support legalization since 1970. In that year, just 12% favored legalization. Over the next decade, support increased to 28% and then held relatively constant for several years. In the late 1990s, public attitudes started to change with more and more people rethinking their opposition. By 2003, 34% supported legalization, in 2009 it increased to 44%, and by 2011 it crossed the 50% mark.

2012 proved to be a pivotal year for marijuana legalization, with citizen initiatives reaching the ballot in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Although Measure 80 did not pass in Oregon, it surprised many observers that it achieved 47% support despite the fact that there was very little campaign spending or voter outreach. There were well funded and organized campaigns in Washington and Colorado, and as you know, those states voters approved legalization with 56% and 55% of vote respectively. Considering that the demographic and political make up of Oregon is similar to Colorado and Washington, if Measure 80 had enjoyed comparable levels of spending as the campaigns in those states it is quite possible that it would have passed here too. As evidence of that, it is worth noting that in September of 2011 polling in Washington showed that support for legalization was just 46%.

Last week DHM Research conducted a survey for New Approach Oregon of 2014 likely voters, measuring where they stand now on marijuana legalization and what they believe is the best way for Oregon to decide this issue.  We found that support for marijuana legalization continues to increase, with now 50% saying they support legalization. It is noteworthy that this is three-percentage points higher than what Measure 80 achieved in a general election with a voter profile that was younger than what we modeled on our sample.

Perhaps the most significant finding in our survey is that voters overwhelming believe that marijuana legalization in Oregon is inevitable. We asked voters which of the following statements was closest to their opinion: Statement A) The way things are going, I am confident that sooner or later marijuana will be legal in Oregon; or Statement B) I seriously doubt marijuana will ever be legal in Oregon. Eighty-one percent (81%) choose Statement A, that they are confident marijuana will be legal in Oregon. As a public opinion researcher this result stands out, and, I believe, sends a strong signal as to where voter attitudes are heading. Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, Oregon voters overwhelmingly believe that it will happen here too, and once they have crossed that point in their minds, the discussion changes from whether to legalize marijuana to what is the most responsible way forward.

To help answer that question, in our survey we asked voters what is the best way for Oregon to consider marijuana legalization. We found that that only about one-third of voters (35%) would prefer that advocates draft an initiative and collect signatures to place it on the ballot. A majority (54%) of voters would rather that you, the Oregon Legislature, take the lead and either pass a bill for the governor’s signature (17%) or refer a measure for voters to consider (36%). Voters understand that legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana is complicated and they are looking to their elected representatives to thoughtfully consider a new approach for Oregon.

Before I close, I’d like to reiterate a few points. Marijuana legalization is a quickly evolving issue. Over the last several decades, we have gone from almost no support for legalization to today where voters in two states have approved it and support has reached the fifty-percent threshold in Oregon. And although Measure 80 failed by a narrow margin last fall, today more than 8 of 10 voters believe that it only a matter of time before marijuana is legal in Oregon and they are looking for the legislature to take the lead.

Thank you.