Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project reports some interesting polling data from Vermont and Rhode Island: As usual, large majorities (71 percent and 69 percent, respectively) said patients whose doctors think they would benefit from marijuana should be able to obtain it legally, but only a minority of respondents in each state (38 percent and 27 percent, respectively) realized the majority felt this way. Mirken suggests this divergence helps explain why politicians are reluctant to back medical marijuana despite strong popular support for that position. "People support medical marijuana by a whopping margin, but think they're in the minority," he says. "It's a safe bet that legislators and their campaign staffs are under the same misapprehension."
Possibly, but I suspect a more important reason for politicians' leeriness is that they believe (probably correctly) that people who oppose medical marijuana tend to feel more strongly about the issue than people who support it. (I'm thinking of the average voter on each side, not the activists.) If cannabis is such a potent symbol of evil to you that you can't even consider the possibility that it might have beneficial properties (as seemed to be the case, for example, with Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey), you are apt to read a politician's support for medical marijuana as an important signal. The same probably is not true for the typical person who does not object to medical use of the drug. If so, politicians could have more to lose by supporting medical marijuana than they would gain.