The use of medical marijuana with the blessing of a doctor gets full-throated support from a wide majority of people over the age of 50 across the nation.
But only 40% of the 2,007 people polled by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation support cannabis use for any reason, according to results from the poll released Tuesday morning.
Those nationwide results might be troubling for a coalition of groups pushing a November ballot proposal for full legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Michigan.
If voter turnout is low and the more reliable population of older voters keeps up its tradition of casting ballots in high numbers, “it will be a lot closer and it could lose,” said Bernie Porn, president of the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC/MRA.
A poll he did in February for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) also revealed some wariness among older voters for fully legalized marijuana, with 49% of people over the age of 65 opposed and 46% in favor. When the demographic is 50 or older, the support for legalization grows to 46% while opposition is 42%.
But overall, the poll of 600 Michigan voters revealed 61% backing the proposal and among younger voters, the support was through the roof with 87% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 backing the legalization proposal.
“There’s something going on in terms of pushing registration of younger voters, whether it revolves around the gun issue and the Parkland students or other issues,” Porn said, referring to the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who have been energized to fight for more gun control after a shooting at the school in February left 17 students and teachers dead. “And in all the states that have been holding elections so far, the turnout has been pretty strong especially among young people and women.”
Dr. Preeti Malani, the University of Michigan director of the poll and specialist in the treatment of older patients, said that while only 6% of the people who responded to the U-M poll used medical marijuana, 80% said it should be available for people with a doctor’s recommendation and 70% said they would be open to talking with their doctor about using cannabis to help with a serious medical condition.
But 66% said the government should do more research on marijuana’s health effects, both good and bad.
“The public is viewing medical marijuana as a reasonable option and health care needs to acknowledge that and catch up,” she said. “Clinicians need to ask their patients about the use of medical marijuana, particularly in older patients, because there is not a type of person who uses marijuana. It’s very mainstream.”
Malani said she has concerns about how medical marijuana is being distributed, without specific instructions from doctors, but with the advice of people who work in medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The bar is pretty low for getting a card to go into a marijuana shop. Somebody in the pot shop is going to say what people should be using and there’s not a lot of standardization,” Malani said. “If people are using this, it behooves us to try and study it. And the people in the poll were supportive of more research to help determine things like dosing.”
As the state Board of Canvassers considers the petition signatures to determine whether there are enough from valid voters to qualify for the November ballot, the forces both for and against legalized marijuana are beginning to gear up.
Scott Greenlee, president of the Healthy and Productive Michigan political action committee, which is opposed to the ballot proposal, has begun doing presentations to groups across the state saying that his stance against the ballot measure has nothing to do with medical marijuana, only recreational use.
“I get it that the perception is out there that if it’s on the ballot, it will pass. That’s incorrect,” he told a small group of Oakland County Republicans last week. “But it’s a horrible idea, and the more opportunity I have at education, the more people who come out against it.
“That 60% who say they support it are very uneducated numbers. And as we all learned in last presidential election, polls are not really accurate, so we’ve got a job to do,” he added, calling the ballot proposal “Big Tobacco, Part 2.”
He cites opposition from business organizations like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and many in law enforcement and faith-based groups, “and that adds up to a pretty large number who will make their voices heard.”
But the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, which gathered the signatures to put legalization on the ballot, said the opposition is merely spreading myths that the voters will see through.
“I’m always concerned with the opposition in the context of this campaign because we know there is going to be big money funding the marijuana myths that we’ve heard for years,” said Jeff Irwin, the coalition’s political director. “Folks are running around saying the sky is falling in all the other states. And it’s just not believable because it’s just not true.”
Josh Hovey, spokesman for the coalition, said that the older Michiganders are obviously an important constituency in the November election.
“Once people see the details of our proposal — that we follow best practices from other states and include strict regulation and enforcement — they’ll see that this is a reasonable and well-thought-out proposal, and they’ll support it.”