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Report: Where Does Support For Legal Marijuana Come From?

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

A new study conducted by drugabuse.com looks at federal petition data over a four-year period to determine which regions, states and counties have the most consistent track record of support for marijuana in the United States.

The team at drugabuse.com used a dataset of 552,405 signatures extracted from 60 petitions at the We the People petitioning system launched by the Obama administration in 2011, which requires administration officials to issue a response once a petition reaches a certain signature threshold.

The petitions selected for this study range between September 2011 and May 2015.

To correct for bias, researchers removed any petitions tied down to a specific geographical location, as in the case where supporters called for pardoning of an individual in trouble for marijuana use. These 60 petitions in one form or another expressed support for marijuana through calls for legalization, rescheduling or decriminalization.

Users who signed the petitions fit the intersection between support for marijuana and willingness to use the We the People system to indicate that support.

From 2011 to 2015, Montana ranked as the state with the most signatures per 10,000 residents at a rate of 33.4. Nine of those 10 states have some form of legal marijuana, whether medical or recreational, as of April 2015.

Out of the top 10 states, three voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election, which reflects party differences on the drug captured by recent Pew surveys.

Divergence exists even among millennials. Only 63 percent of Republican millennials want to see marijuana legalized, in contrast to 77 percent of Democratic millennials.

Not surprisingly, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia all rank in the top 10 slots. States like Delaware, South Carolina, New York, Hawaii and Mississippi end up at the bottom, with Mississippi bringing in only 10.9 signatures per 10,000 residents. In Mississippi, marijuana for recreational purposes is illegal, though the law includes exemptions for certain medical cases.

California also appeared in the bottom 10, despite having fairly relaxed marijuana laws. Medical marijuana is legal and users face a small infraction if possessing up to an ounce of marijuana.

When broken down by county-level, Williamsburg, Virginia, far outpaces the competition at 109.4 signatures. The percentage of people within the 20-29 age demographic tracks with support through the petition system, meaning that political affiliation alone doesn’t explain the results. In Williamsburg, for example, 38.1 percent of the population fits the 20-29 age demographic.

This level of support means that marijuana is no longer a fringe political issue and continues to feature in the 2016 presidential race, especially among Republicans, who can now discuss the issue without facing political suicide.

While former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush doesn’t agree with the idea of marijuana legalization and thinks the policy is a bad idea, he nevertheless explicitly supports the right of states to decide for themselves absent federal interference. Sen. Ted Cruz, also a contender, has publicly supported states’ rights to decide on marijuana as they see fit.

“If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative,” Cruz stated at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. “I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

A Pew survey in April found that 53 percent of the public favors legal marijuana, with 44 percent opposed. In 2006, only 32 percent supported legalization.

See a map of the 50 states and their respective signature rates here:

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