Most Louisiana Voters Oppose Full Marijuana Legalization, One Poll Finds

Dr. Ed Chervenak, of the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, and Dr. Tony Licciardi, of My People Vote.

While 11 states plus the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational use of marijuana, a 2020 Louisiana opinion poll shows that a majority of registered voters still oppose legalization – but that number has decreased slightly. 

The poll was sponsored by Louisiana Public Opinion, LLC, and conducted by My People Vote in association with Edgewater Research LLC. Dr. Edward Chervenak of the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center and Dr. Tony Licciardi, Jr., of My People Vote, conducted the survey and analysis.

Fittingly, the poll was conducted on April 20. The poll randomly selected 670 registered voters from the Secretary of State’s voter file. The poll boasts a 95% confidence level with a 3.8% margin of sampling error. 

Taken with other recent polls, this new finding suggests that Louisianians favor decriminalization for possession in small amounts but oppose complete legalization of marijuana. 

A 2019 poll conducted by Louisiana State University revealed that 55 percent of Louisiana residents polled supported allowing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, with only 42 percent opposing. 

But when asked about outright legalization, the recent “4/20 poll” found that 37 percent were in favor with 54 percent opposed. In 2017, when the survey first began, only 34 percent were in favor of legalization, with 58 percent opposed – a slight increase over the years. 

Statewide attitude toward legalization of recreational marijuana, 2017-2020. Courtesy of Louisiana Public Opinion and My People Vote.

A major driving factor behind opposition to legalization lies in older respondents. A scant 28 percent of voters aged 55 and above favor legalization. However, for the first time in the poll’s four-year history, a majority (52 percent) of respondents aged 18-34 favor legalization of recreational marijuana. 

Percent of respondents who support or oppose legalization by age, 2017-2020. Courtesy of Louisiana Public Opinion and My People Vote.

While Louisiana Democrats favor legalization by a small plurality (47 to 43 percent), the historical trend of the poll suggests that Republicans are increasingly less opposed to legalization as well. In 2017, over three out of four Republican respondents opposed legalization; in 2020, that number has declined to less than two out of three respondents. 

Percent who support or oppose legalization by party, 2017-2020. Courtesy of Louisiana Public Opinion and My People Vote.

Within the state, the Greater New Orleans region polled “most” in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, and all but one of the state’s six Congressional Districts polled at between 40 and 44 percent in favor. However, there was one massive outlier. In Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, which covers Northeast and Central Louisiana, only 13 percent supported legalization. 

Percent support of legalization by Congressional District, 2017-2020. Courtesy of Louisiana Public Opinion and My People Vote.

The poll results seemingly bucks the national trend toward lax marijuana policies. Two out of three Americans nationwide now support legalizing marijuana – the most since 1989. The past decade has seen a trove of research into how nonviolent drug possession drives local and state prison populations. 

A 2018 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center on arrests in Louisiana showed a massive racial disparity in arrests made for possession of marijuana. In 2016, black Louisiana residents were 2.9 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white residents. In Baton Rouge, black residents were nine times more likely than whites to be arrested for that same crime. Black and white people use marijuana at the same rates.

But Louisianians may not be as strict on the issue as the poll suggests. In 2013, a Public Policy Polling survey showed that 64 percent of Louisianians favored loosening criminal penalties for marijuana, and 53 percent polled favored the state regulating and taxing the drug.

In 2015, an LSU poll showed that while a majority (52 percent) of Louisianians opposed total legalization of marijuana, 67 percent of respondents said that people should not serve jail time for possession of small amounts of the drug. 

What accounts for the differences in this poll when compared to other polling? Both attitudes could be accurate – with a majority of Louisianians favor decreasing or eliminating marijuana penalties, and a majority also disfavoring complete legalization. 

The poll notes a potential limitation in its methodology. The survey conducted was an interactive voice response (IVR), or “robo-call” poll. The Federal Communications Commission prohibits dialing cell phone numbers when conducting these types of polls – which can disfavor younger opinions. “The growing trend of minority and younger households without landlines can result in coverage error,” the poll stated, although it was corrected to account for this potential. 

The poll was also limited to registered voters. It is possible that registered voters have a less forgiving view of marijuana use than the general public. This, in turn, may show how important it is that all residents are active and involved in our political process.

At any rate, it appears that Louisianians are moving – however slowly – toward supporting full legalization, and they largely disagree with current criminal penalties.

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