It looks like reefer madness in Georgia may be going mellow.
A new poll released today by Georgia NORML and Peachtree NORML claims that 54% of Georgians favor legalization of marijuana similar to Colorado and Washington State, while an even larger 62% believe possession of pot in amounts less than 1 oz should be de-criminalized, with violators instead paying a $100 civil fine.
Note again that this is Georgia voters. Here. In the Bible belt.
So I guess we’ll assume that PPP polls oversampled millennials? Nope, they’re 9% of participants. Two thirds of the participants in the poll were over the age of 45.
That’s a significant change in public opinion over the last decade, even here in Georgia. And it is already starting to show up in policy. The Governor’s criminal justice reform packages have specifically talked about the costs to taxpayers as well as the cost in future lost income for those with minor criminal charges on their “permanent record”. Meanwhile, other states are starting to cultivate an industry which employs people, pays taxes, and draws tourists. It appears some of Georgia’s voters are taking notice.
Of course, what matters in Georgia right now is how Republican voters feel. We are a state with all Republican statewide elected officials and near super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. These folks aren’t going to move quickly on something that they believe will cause them more trouble in a primary that it is worth.
The numbers don’t yet show a majority of Republicans favoring full legalization, but the numbers are frankly stronger than I would have thought. On decriminalization, 56% of GOP voters approve of a civil offense for less than 1 oz of possession, with those who strongly favor (43%) or somewhat support (13%), as contrasted to the 39% who oppose being broken down into somewhat oppose (19%) and strongly oppose (20%).
But, when asked if participants favored lowering punishment for less than 1 oz of pot, the numbers drop to 52% support, and 41% opposed. Still a slight majority, but softer strong support (34%).
48% of Republican voters favor legalization similar to Colorado and Washington State, with 37% strongly supporting. 50% are opposed with 38% strongly opposed.
The biggest problem in the poll for reform supporters is that 44% of GOP participants say they would be less likely to support a candidate who backs marijuana reform. That’s less than the combination of those who say they would be more likely (23%) or wouldn’t make a difference (26%), but a candidate that governs by polls would say there’s a 44% downside and only a 23% upside on getting in front of this issue.
And yet, it’s clear where the momentum is on this issue. Senator Josh McKoon and House Speaker David Ralston have both said they would like to study the science behind Medical Marijuana. Rep Allen Peake, hardly a moderate squish, is already supportive of medical applications. Four years ago, it’s unlikely any of this could have been said in respectable political circles.
In short, those supporting reforms can take heart in this poll which demonstrates that opinion is changing in their direction. They also need to understand that there is significant work to do before “legalization” is anywhere near reality.
Their press release follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 20th, 2014
62% of Georgia Voters Support Ending Criminal Penalties for Pot
Over Half Support Legalizing It For Adults
Atlanta, GA- A new statewide poll shows that 62% of Georgia voters endorse eliminating criminal
penalties for possession by adults of less than one ounce of pot, and replace it with a $100 civil fine,
without the possibility of jail time. Further, more than half of all Georgia voters now support
regulating the legal consumption and retail sale of marijuana for those age 21 and over. In 2012, voters
in Colorado and Washington approved similar regulations in their states.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) was commissioned by state affiliates of the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Georgia NORML, and Peachtree NORML.
“The citizens of Georgia agree, marijuana prohibition is a wasteful and destructive policy. It is time for
our state to catch up with public opinion and find a more sensible solution to the status quo,” said
Sharon Ravert, the organization’s Executive Director.
Peachtree NORML and other advocacy groups are working with lawmakers and various state coalition
groups to amend Georgia’s criminal marijuana laws. In 2010, some 32,500 Georgians were arrested for
violating marijuana laws, according to the FBI. That is the sixth highest total of any state in America.
Fifty-seven percent of voters supported legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. State
lawmakers have indicated interest in studying this legal option. Ravert welcomes the discussion but
believes that “this issue [medical marijuana] is complex,” and that the process could take years.
“Decriminalization, which received the highest level of support among those polled is a policy that
could be enacted immediately and would provide legal protection to not only patients but those unfairly
targeted by the current policy. This is not about getting high, this is about protecting sick people and
everyone else from arrest using a harm reduction strategy with public safety as a top priority.” The
organization has found support for medical cannabis as well as regulations models from several elected
In order to continue raising awareness for this issue, NORML affiliates around the state have teamed
up with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia to host a lobby day at the state
capitol on January 21st 2014. A press conference will begin at 1:00 pm, on the Washington Street side
of the capitol. Immediately following the press conference, the coalition plans to deliver 5000
signature and their recent poll results to the Governor.