Only Six Percent of Americans Think Marijuana Possession Should Be Punished With Jail Time


Only six percent of Americans think minor marijuana possession should be punishable by jail time, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll. The poll also found that a strong plurality of Americans think the use or possession of small amounts of marijuana should not be punishable at all.

When asked, "Which approach do you think government and law enforcement should take toward someone found smoking marijuana or in possession of a small amount of marijuana?", six percent of respondents said possession should be punishable with jail, 20 percent said it should result in mandatory substance abuse counseling, 32 percent said users should incur a fine, and 35 percent of respondents said people caught with small amounts of marijuana should not be punished at all.

The Reason-Rupe poll is one of the few instances–possibly the first–in which the usual polling dichotomies of incarceration v. treatment and criminal penalty v. civil penalty have been expanded to include no penalty whatsoever. The results suggest that Americans are comfortable with the idea of decriminalization–which reduces the penalty for minor marijuana possession to a civil fine–and more sympathetic than ever to the idea of fully legalizing possession. 

In addition, the Reason-Rupe nationwide telephone poll of 1,003 people found that a majority of Americans say they would support legislation from Congress that would "prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who grow, possess, or sell marijuana in the states that have legalized it." Fifty-two percent of poll respondents said they would support such protections for both medical and recreational marijuana regimes even though the drug remains illegal under federal law, while 42 percent said they would oppose legislating such protections.

Incidentally, just such a piece of legislation–the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act–was introduced in April by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.).