AT BOTTOM: California survey shows legalization winning out 56-42 percent
As with many instances in politics, actuality can often be obscured behind the wrong frame: ask a question just the right way and results can be wildly tilted, one way or another.
Take the case of an Associated Press/CNBC poll released on April 20, 2010, detailing Americans' opinions on legalizing marijuana. The poll was widely reported as declaring that 55 percent in the U.S. are opposed to ending prohibition.
Make no mistake, "oppose" is exactly what 55 percent of the people said when asked: "Do you favor, oppose or neither favor nor oppose the complete legalization of the use of marijuana for any purpose?"
However, a more nuanced probing of the issue, carried out by the polling firm but almost entirely unmentioned in the media on April 20th, found that when stacked next to alcohol, often a more debilitating and addictive substance, statistical support for drug law reforms skyrocketed.
Appearing on page four of the 22-page document, poll workers asked respondents whether or not the U.S. should treat marijuana and alcohol similarly. While 43 percent wanted rules more strict than those applied to alcohol, 44 percent wanted the two handled equally. Another 12 percent wanted less strict rules for pot over alcohol.
"... [Meaning] that a full 56 percent support the policy change -- perhaps the highest number ever recorded in favor of legalization," Huffington Post's Ryan Grim noted.
The AP's own report completely failed to mention the key data, which would appear to contradict their lead angle. Instead, the news wire handed the story's sole alcohol reference to the California Narcotics Officers Association, which suggested marijuana legalization is unpopular due to problems caused by alcohol and prescription drugs.
"Given that reality, we don't need to add another mind-altering substance that compromises people's five senses," a spokesman reportedly said.
The lobby's spokesman did not explain in the report how taxation and regulation would "add" a substance, considering marijuana is already the nation's most valuable cash crop, generating an estimated $35.8 billion annually: more than corn and wheat combined.
Over at CNBC, reporter Trish Regan actually mentioned the figure showing record support for legalization, but it was buried at the bottom of her report.
However, Regan did cite another figure the AP did not: the high degree of degradation in support for the persistent claim that marijuana is a "gateway drug." She noted that pollsters found 39 percent still believe the suggestion, "though nearly half the country believes marijuana has no effect on whether people will use more serious drugs."
Even RAW STORY carried the AP's angle, calling the 55 percent "opposed" to legalization in the April 20 poll a likely "buzzkill" on the counter-culture holiday which saw millions of Americans participate in public consumption of the plant.
Other recent national polls on marijuana legalization show an accelerating trend toward ending prohibition, with up to 53 percent in favor of legalization according to a December Angus Reid poll. Figures out of Gallup just two months earlier showed their highest recorded support for legalization as well, at 44 percent in favor.
According to Gallup's data, support for legalization grew eight percent, from 36 to 44, between 2006 and 2009: the fastest rate since the U.S. government commissioned the war on drugs.
In California, where activists succeeded in securing a spot for legalization on the state's 2010 ballot, the national trend appears even further accelerated. According to an April SurveyUSA sampling, if the election took place today the measure would pass 56 to 42. Support for legalization was highest among the 18-34 demographic, with 74 percent in favor.
Majorities of whites, blacks and Asians sampled for the poll also agreed with legalization, the group found. While 60 percent of the state's conservatives oppose the move, a shocking 39 percent are in favor, joined by strong majorities of liberals and moderates. The figures also fingered the Bay-area as the region with the state's highest concentration of green-leaning voters.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has expressed her opposition to the initiative, citing the law enforcement lobby's allegation that taxing the state's large population of cannabis consumers and enforcing regulations on their favored product would endanger public safety. Proponents of the ballot initiative have dismissed the objection as political posturing.