Most Americans oppose federal action against state-legal marijuana operations, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted after the release of recent Justice Department guidance that gives U.S. government prosecutors the discretion to aggressively pursue such cases.
A majority of the public, 56 percent, say they’d oppose federal efforts to stop the sale and use of marijuana in states where it’s been legalized, with 44 percent expressing strong opposition, the survey found. Just 30 percent of Americans would support such action, while another 14 percent said they were not sure.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a frequent critic of marijuana, rescinded a set of Obama-era memos that had effectively discouraged federal prosecutors from targeting cannabis operations that were in compliance with state law. A total of eight states have now legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Sessions replaced that policy with new guidance giving U.S. attorneys ― the chief federal prosecutors in each of the nation’s 94 federal districts ― the go-ahead to enforce federal law, which still holds marijuana to be a Schedule I substance, alongside substances like heroin and LSD. It’s not yet clear how U.S. attorneys will proceed under the new policy, but the HuffPost/YouGov survey suggests any targeting of state-legal cannabis would be unpopular and could carry significant political risks.
Critics quickly assailed the Sessions decision as a violation of President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to respect states’ rights on marijuana. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared to make this shift official last week, when she said Trump now “strongly believes” federal law should be enforced when it comes to cannabis.
The poll, however, shows that the public is more likely to believe the issue should be left up to the states. A total of 47 percent of Americans believe laws governing the use of marijuana should be determined at the state level, while just 32 percent said they should be determined at the federal level. Another 22 percent said they were unsure.
That’s long been the case. As far back as five years ago, a majority of Americans believed adults should be exempt from federal drug laws on marijuana as long as they were following state law, according to a 2012 YouGov survey.
The preference also holds across party lines. In the most recent poll, Democrats favor a state-centric approach over a federal one by an 18-point margin, Republicans by a 15-point margin and independents by a 13-point margin.
But it’s also clear that there’s still some confusion about the state-federal divide on marijuana. Although the GOP often portrays itself as the party of states’ rights, Republican respondents were by far the most likely to express support for a federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis operations. More than half said they’d support such action, compared to less than a quarter of either Democrats or independents.
Overall, 55 percent of Americans back legalization of marijuana both nationally and in their own state.
Other recent surveys have found support topping the 60 percent mark. A record-high 64 percent majority of Americans, including slightly more than half of Republicans, backed legalization in Gallup’s most recent tracking poll.