Poll: Support for legal marijuana spikes in Virginia

Cannabis leaves. (Pixabay/Creative Commons license)

The number of Virginians who support legalized recreational marijuana spiked over the past two years to 61 percent, according to a poll conducted earlier this month by the University of Mary Washington.

The last time the school asked voters for their views on legal recreational pot (in September 2017) only 39 percent were in favor.

Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the school, responded to the results by quoting Bob Dylan.

“‘The times they are a-changin’ — here in the Old Dominion,” he said in a statement.

Advocates for marijuana reform said they weren’t surprised by the results.

“Virginia attitudes tend to mirror those of the American public on this issue, and the majority of Americans favor legalizing responsible adult use of marijuana,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws.

She noted that a Quinnipiac University poll of Virginia residents released in 2017 found 59 percent of respondents supported legalization, though the question was worded somewhat more gingerly, asking “Do you support or oppose allowing adults in Virginia to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use?”

The Mary Washington survey, meanwhile, asked more directly about a legal, recreational program this year, asking “Do you support or oppose the legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults in Virginia?” And in 2017 they asked respondents which three statements came closest to their views about adult use of marijuana in the state: it should be legal for personal use (39%), legal only for medicinal use (41%) and it should not be legal (17%).

Virginia is slowly working to roll out its first medical marijuana program, which will allow patients to purchase THC and CBD oils and other (non-leaf) preparations with the recommendation of a doctor. Five pharmacies awarded licenses to produce the products expect to open to patients early next year.

A growing number of politicians — mostly Democrats — have voiced support for legalizing recreational marijuana. Most recently, Attorney General Mark Herring said he backs decriminalizing marijuana and, eventually, legalization. The Virginian Pilot reports that Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, has already said he’ll file legislation to legalize it next year. His first attempt earlier this year was shot down along with a slew of decriminalization bills in a House subcommittee.

Meanwhile, arrest rates for marijuana possession have steadily ticked up around the state to their highest levels in at least 20 years.