President Obama drew controversy when he told the New Yorker in January that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, calling pot-smoking a “vice.” But his view is shared by the majority of Americans. By dramatic margins, those polled said alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, both to individuals’ health and to society, according to a new Pew poll. More than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — said alcohol would be more dangerous to people’s health even if marijuana were as widely available as alcohol. Only 15 percent said marijuana would be more harmful. Sixty-three percent said alcohol would also be more dangerous to society:
A similar percentage of those polled — 67 percent — said the government should prioritize treatment rather than prosecution for users of illegal drugs, while 76 percent said minor possession of marijuana should not draw jail time. This comports with another recent poll finding that most do not support jail time for first-time drug possession offenses. Even in Texas, a conservative organization found in December that a majority of Texans oppose jail time for nonviolent drug offenders.
The Pew poll also found that most Americans support reform of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that compel draconian prison sentences. Some 63 percent said the shift in some states away from mandatory minimums is a good thing — a significant shift from 2001, when 45 percent described it as a “good thing.”
These results come against a backdrop in which most Americans view drug abuse as a “serious problem.” Eighty-seven percent identified drug abuse as either a “crisis” or a “serious problem,” which just 13 percent called it a “minor problem.” This view is less prevalent, however, among young people.
Both Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana on campaigns to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” and Alaska is pursuing a similar strategy as it prepares for a ballot initiative this summer. Proponents of these measures have argued that resources can be re-allocated toward treatment rather than the failed War on Drugs. A majority of Americans still support marijuana legalization in the newest Pew poll, but many believe it could have the adverse effect of leading more young people to try it, and say they would be bothered by marijuana use in public.
Another survey released Tuesday by WebMD found that a majority of doctors support legalizing medical marijuana. The survey polled 1,540 doctors who are “members of Medscape’s panel” in 12 specialty areas. Overall, 69 percent of the doctors said it could help with certain medical conditions, and 67 percent said it should be a medical option nationwide. Support was highest among oncologists and hematologists, 82 percent of whom said it should be a medical option.