The pendulum of public opinion on marijuana policy has been swinging rather dramatically in recent years away from prohibition and toward a more libertarian approach. Hence last year's decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize the stuff and the corresponding announcement by the Justice Department that, so long as the states' markets are well-regulated, it's not terribly concerned.
Texas tends to lag when it comes to progressive social causes, and nonscientific observation suggests a Washington-like embrace of pot is a decade or two away, at least. This would seem to be borne out by a Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll from two years ago showing that 59 percent of Texans are against the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with 41 percent in favor.
But according to the Huffington Post, NORML, and others, public opinion has undergone a complete reversal. Now, 58 percent of Texans support "making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol."
The numbers come from a Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The same poll also found that 61 percent want to decriminalize marijuana possession.
MPP's executive director Rob Kampia insists that the results speak for themselves. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market," he says.
But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. One is the source of the poll. PPP, a left-leaning outfit, has been repeatedly taken to task by others in the industry for questionable methodology. And there's no question where its client, MPP, stands on the question of marijuana.
There are also the questions themselves, which are confusing and poorly worded. Here's how they ask about legalization:
The voters in Colorado and Washington changed their laws to allow marijuana to be regulated similarly to alcohol for adults age 21 and older. Would you support or oppose changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older?
Respondents are then given five options: strongly agree or disagree, somewhat agree or disagree, and not sure.
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Compare that with the Texas Tribune/UT's yes/no query from two years ago:
[Would you] legalize the use of marijuana and impose taxes on its purchase?
Say those two questions in your head and guess which one you're more likely to flub.
Methodology aside, though, the biggest red flags are the results themselves. There's no way public opinion on an issue swung almost 20 points in two years. That just doesn't happen, suggesting that one of the surveys is bullshit. The question, then, is whether you trust the team from the well-respected, nonpartisan media outlet and research university, or the progressive-leaning, for-hire polling outfit.