The sale of recreational marijuana is good for the California economy and does not appear to be increasing the crime rate, according to San Diego County residents surveyed in a new public opinion poll commissioned by the Union-Tribune and 10News.
Almost half of the 600 poll participants said that legalization has been good for society, and 43 percent said that cannabis is generally good for a person’s health.
A smaller sampling from the poll found that 20 percent of the respondents said they went to school or work after using cannabis, and 27 percent said they have used marijuana daily since the start of legalization.
SurveyUSA conducted the poll on April 19-20 in San Diego County. The results have a potential error rate of plus or minus 5.4 percentage points.
The media companies commissioned the survey to get a snapshot of the public’s attitude about cannabis roughly four months after recreational marijuana went on sale in licensed stores, including 13 that operate in San Diego.
The data says that 49 percent of respondents think legalized marijuana is a good thing for California society, compared to 22 percent who believe it has made no difference, and 20 percent who think it is a bad thing. Nine percent said they were not sure.
The survey found that 57 percent believe that legalization has been good for the California economy, 20 percent said it has made no difference, 14 percent are not sure, and 9 percent said it has been bad.
The poll also showed that 44 percent of respondents believe that marijuana sales have affected the crime rate, as opposed to 23 percent say who it has curtailed crime. Seventeen percent said crime has increased, and 16 percent said they were not sure.
On the controversial matter of whether marijuana affects a person’s health, 43 percent said it is good for users, 25 percent said it is bad, 17 percent said they were not sure, and 15 percent said that it has no impact.
The issue has spurred controversy because many marijuana retailers and marketers are promoting cannabis as a medicinal and wellness drug. But the scientific community says that comparatively little research has been done on the matter, and that many of the studies that have been completed show either mixed or incomplete results.
The survey also posed the following question to a smaller number of respondents (204): “How often did you use marijuana before legalization? Almost never? A couple of times a year? About once a month? About once a week? Or daily?”
The poll says 22 percent used cannabis a couple of times a year, 21 percent use it daily, 20 percent use it a couple of times per week, 15 percent almost never use it, eight percent said they use it about once a month, eight percent said they use it about once a week, and 7 percent said they are not sure.
The data contains several surprises.
The respondents who were 65 or older — people often associated with having conservative views — were far less worried about marijuana’s potential impact on crime than people in all of the other age groups.
But older respondents were not as convinced as others that marijuana can be good for their health. The result is surprising because the cannabis industry as strongly marketed marijuana as a drug that can help baby boomers with medical issues.
SurveyUSA also asked 181 people how often they used cannabis since it became legalization. Twenty-seven percent said they do so daily. The youngest of the respondents led the way, but the oldest weren’t far behind.
The survey further showed that men are more likely to use cannabis for recreational reasons, and women are more likely to use it for their health.
The survey drew a mix of responses from San Diego’s cannabis industry.
“Clearly, a significant portion of folks are saying legalization has had a positive impact which echoes customer sentiment inside the store,” said Rocky Goyal, who operates the Apothekare marijuana store in Mission Valley.
“After 75 plus years of negative social and cultural programming, we are witnessing a historic shift in the public perception towards cannabis in just a couple of short years. As more time passes, I think you’ll see these numbers grow even more favorably towards cannabis.”
Lincoln Fish seized on the fact that only 9 percent of the respondents believe that legalized marijuana is bad for the state’s economy.
“ As far as taxes, the state was getting none before, now they are getting quite a bit,” said Fish, chief executive officer of Outco, a marijuana cultivator and wholesaler near El Cajon.
“More legal, decent-paying jobs have been created and the companies in our industry are using a lot of other firms for goods and services. I’d love to talk to the 9 percent and see how they feel it has negatively affected the economy … or even the 20 percent and understand why they feel it hasn’t made a difference.”
The survey question that found that 43 percent of respondents believe that marijuana is good for people’s health resonated with Zach Lazarus, co-founder of A Green Alternative, a marijuana store in Otay Mesa.
“I believe when consumed responsibly with moderation and as we really begin to study what this great green plant really has in store for society the medicinal capabilities outweigh what big pharma has already created … an opioid epidemic.”
Dr. Mark Wallace, chair of the Division of Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health, offered a more cautionary opinion about the health effects of marijuana.
He has successfully guided patients in taking medical marijuana to manage neuropathic pain, which can arise from diabetes, traumatic injuries and infections. And he noted on Sunday night that states with legalized marijuana are reporting fewer overdoses and deaths related to the use of prescription opioids.
But he also pointed to a 468-page study by the National Academy of Sciences that says that scientists know comparatively little about the therapeutic and harmful effects of marijuana because the federal government makes it hard for them to study the subject.
For example, the NAS report says there is evidence that marijuana can be helpful in pain management. But the report also says there is evidence that long-term use of cannabis can affect a person’s respiratory system.
There is insufficient evidence, says the report, to know how marijuana use affects many types of cancers, including esophageal, prostate and cervical.