There has been a clear state-by-state divide in marijuana legalization efforts that some research indicates has occurred because of a red states v. blue states bias.
According to research collected online and analyzed by Consumer Research Around Cannabis, Portland, Oregon and Birmingham, Alabama are two examples of the blue vs. red divide in U.S. politics and how that affects opinions and votes about marijuana legalization.
According to statistics in The New York Times, Alabama voted overwhelmingly Republican in the recent national elections, with 62 percent voting for President Trump and 34 percent voting for Secretary Clinton.
Not surprisingly, Oregon was somewhat reversed, leaning toward the Democrats, with 50 percent voting for Clinton, and 39 percent voting for Trump. Oregon also had a large number of votes for third-party candidates.
Based on the latest voting patterns, as well as preconceptions regarding these two parts of the country, one might assume that attitudes regarding marijuana legalization would be as divergent as these election results.
But the issue is more complex than just red vs. blue, according to the research. Local survey data from over 1,900 respondents in the Portland and Birmingham areas revealed some thought- provoking insights into these two distinctive geographic areas.
The first statistic of interest is that the majority of adults in both the Greater Portland Metropolitan Area and the Greater Birmingham Metropolitan Area agreed cannabis should be legalized in some form, whether for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.
In fact, 73.8 percent of adults in the Portland area favor legalization of marijuana use, a higher percentage than that of the Birmingham area.
Birmingham’s 60.2 percent approval rate is a clear majority of the population in a region consisting of Alabama’s largest city and surrounding suburban counties.
The largest markets in both Oregon and Alabama agree that marijuana should be legalized for medical and/or recreational purposes, but differences do start to appear deeper into the data. These differences are rooted in the “and/or” logic, splitting support between those that feel marijuana should be legal for recreational and medicinal use vs. those that only support medicinal use.
A majority of adults, 56.7 percent, in the Greater Portland Metropolitan Area approve of cannabis use for either purpose. In the Greater Birmingham Metropolitan Area, the number that approve of medicinal and recreational drops to 36.5 percent.
Those that support medical use only in Portland represent 16.2 percent of the adult population, while in Birmingham, 23.3 percent support cannabis for medical purposes only.
This still means that, of those that support legalization in the Birmingham area, the majority of the pro- cannabis consumer segment there supports both recreational and medicinal use.
Another noticeable statistic is the number of people in the Birmingham area, Alabama’s largest consumer market, that don’t have an opinion on the topic. Of those adults surveyed, over a quarter of the population (25.8 percent) didn’t take a stance either way. In Portland, only 15.6 percent responded that they had no opinion, suggesting that Portland is much more enthusiastic about legalization, and that Birmingham is somewhat more indifferent.
Either way, only 10.6 percent of Portland area adults oppose any cannabis legalization, and just 13.9 percent of Birmingham adults oppose any legalization.
The changing face of legalization efforts continues to confound industry watchers as attitudes change while the industry matures and its economic engine goes into high gear.
For example, in early 2016, the Motley Fool predicted that 14 states may never wind up legalizing marijuana, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. All are red states, or, in the case of West Virginia, Virginia and Louisiana, have Republican control of legislature and Democrate control of the executive branch.
There has been some work to legalize in these states with limited – or no – results. For example, Alabama’s legislative session ended in May, with the introduction of a bill to eliminate criminal penalties for a first time possession of under an ounce, which basically died in committee.
Georgia expanded conditions for use of medical marijuana but didn’t address the issue of purchasing medical marijuana.
The Marijuana Policy Project reported that Kansas, a staunchly red state, is one of only two states whose laws lack any acknowledgement of the medical benefits of cannabis (the other is Idaho).
In Kansas, several bills were introduced this year that would have created comprehensive medical cannabis programs, and others were introduced that would have provided more limited protections for patients using low-THC cannabis products. Unfortunately, they all died in committee.
But as with many states, there may be more to come, as 68 percent of Kansans are in favor of patient access to medical marijuana.
West Virginia’s ongoing opioid crisis propelled interest in medical marijuana, as the state became the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana in April, with medical marijuana cards to be issued to patients beginning in July, 2019.
But there is another reason these red states are either slow to embrace legalization or are trying to ignore it entirely – their political process.
None of the 14 states listed by Motley Fool have an initiative and referendum process for getting laws introduced and passed in the state, which means that there is no citizen-run legalization process available and that only the lawmakers in these states can introduce legislation.
An initiative process allows citizens to propose or initiate a statute or constitutional amendment. Citizens initiating such legislation are known as the measure’s proponents.
The referendum process allows citizens to refer a statute passed by the legislature to the ballot so that voters can enact or repeal the measure. Once enough signatures are gathered on petitions, the law is usually stayed, or stopped from going into effect, until the voters have decided the question.