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Americans Want Marijuana Legalization To Prioritize Equity And Benefit Workers, Poll From Advocacy Group Finds



A new report from an equity-focused marijuana advocacy organization finds that nearly two thirds of American adults want legalization laws to prioritize social equity (68 percent), end cannabis arrests (68 percent) and ensure that people have legal access to marijuana products (65 percent).

The vast majority—85 percent—also think legalization should benefit people who use marijuana as medicine, while 63 percent said the policy change should benefit those who use cannabis for pleasure.

The study, “American Values and Beliefs About Marijuana Legalization,” claims to be the first of its kind to document “the beliefs that American adults hold about who should benefit from marijuana legalization and who they trust to create good, equitable cannabis policy.” It’s unusual in that its questions focus on how marijuana policy should be made and who should be involved in making it, while the bulk of prior polls on legalization typically focus more simply on whether voters support the underlying policy change to end prohibition.

Published on Wednesday by the Parabola Center for Law and Policy and conducted in collaboration with the nonprofit research institute RTI International, the survey asked Americans to select which groups they most trust to craft good marijuana policy. Majorities trusted people with lived experience (67 percent), those who use marijuana (56 percent) or people working for social equity (55 percent).

Fewer than a quarter of respondents, meanwhile, trusted pharmaceutical company executives (24 percent), the federal government (22 percent) or tobacco (18) or alcohol (13 percent) executives to make good policy.


Parabola Center for Law and Policy

To arrive at the figures, Parabola Center surveyed 404 American adults aged 21 and older. Roughly half of respondents watched six educational videos featuring marijuana policy experts before taking the survey, while others answered questions prior to watching the videos.

Figures used in the current report’s findings “are based on data from the 203 participants who answered survey questions before watching the videos,” it says.

As for those who answered questions after watching the video, the report explains that a separate aim of the research is “to find out if educational videos can increase support for equity in marijuana policy.” Findings about the impact of the educational videos will be published at a later date, authors said.

For now, they noted that “we observed a pattern of effects showing that public education can be used to decolonize U.S. cannabis policy by educating people about corporate culture and promoting policies that benefit small businesses and people who use cannabis.”


Parabola Center for Law and Policy

Less than half of the survey’s respondents said marijuana legalization should benefit pharmaceutical companies (40 percent), large corporations (29 percent), the tobacco industry (28 percent) or alcohol companies (19 percent).

Majorities, meanwhile, said legalization should advance the interests of people who use marijuana for medical use (85 percent) or pleasure (63 percent), cannabis industry workers (73 percent), people who’ve been harmed by enforcement of prohibition (61 percent), locally owned and small businesses (57 percent and 56 percent, respectively) and everyday people (59 percent).

Minorities of respondents also said they thought legalization should prioritize creating a sharing community (49 percent) or preserving marijuana culture (42 percent).

Just over a quarter (27 percent) said they care about keeping marijuana illegal.


Parabola Center for Law and Policy

“Before federal legalization occurs, it is important to preemptively examine who will benefit from marijuana legalization and what policies will need to be put in place to ensure equitable access to marijuana and equitable distribution of profits from the marijuana industry,” the report says, adding that in the context of cannabis, “equity means support for individuals and communities who have been harmed by cannabis criminalization and the War on Drugs.”

“Historically, policies championed by large businesses including the tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical industries have led to large profits for those industries, pushed out small business owners, and negatively impacted vulnerable communities,” it adds. “These industries, along with others with financial interests, are trying to exert influence on upcoming policy changes.”

Shaleen Title, Parabola Center’s co-founder and one of the initial members of the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission after that state enacted legalization, said the report’s findings reveal a mismatch between how most cannabis policy decisions are currently made and what the survey’s respondents said they would prefer to see.

“These survey results refine the idea that most Americans support legalization—it’s because they support people, not because they care about corporate profits,” she told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As policymakers navigate the evolving cannabis landscape, if they want to be responsive to voters, then they should prioritize the needs and concerns of the public, particularly those communities most harmed by the War on Drugs, over the financial interests of large corporations.”

Title added that while there is “risk in all industries that the largest corporations exert undue influence over policy,” in cannabis policy she’s noticed “a particular quirk where industry profit is often conflated with justice.”

“Policies that primarily benefit the largest corporations, such as rescheduling (which reduces their tax burden), the SAFER Banking Act (which increases their access to financial services and capital), and early sales in newly legal states (which gives them a head start in new markets), are frequently framed as positive incremental steps toward justice, even when such policies do little to change the harmful impacts of prohibition,” she explained. “I hope our survey results encourage the public and policymakers to think more critically about who particular policies will benefit, rather than lumping all marijuana-related reform together.”

“With the cannabis landscape rapidly evolving,” Title added, “it’s critical for policymakers to understand public sentiment about who should and shouldn’t benefit from cannabis legalization.”

Parabola has played a key role in balancing the push for cannabis reform while highlighting the nuances of the debate that might otherwise be overlooked as momentum continues to build.

Late last year, a separate Parabola Center report analyzed the prospects of federal legalization and found the shift would threaten to “disrupt and force the transformation of existing intrastate cannabis markets.”

Earlier in 2023, the group also rolled out a marijuana “Anti-Monopoly Toolkit,” which provided an overview of state and federal policy priorities to prevent corporatization and consolidation that could threaten small cannabis businesses in the industry.

In 2022, the center also sounded the alarm about the influence of the tobacco and alcohol industries in shaping federal cannabis reform and encouraging lawmakers to rethink the idea of modeling legal marijuana regulations after those that are in place for booze.

And in 2021, the organization proposed changes to a House-passed federal marijuana legalization bill that sought to ensure that the market be equitable and empower communities that have been most impacted by prohibition.

As for future publications from Parabola Center, it said in the new report that it plans to release “experimental findings that show public education about cannabis policy is a promising tool to promote policies that benefit small businesses and people who use cannabis,” previewing a preliminary takeaway that “participants who saw educational videos had greater agreement that when it comes to cannabis policy, they care about creating a sharing community.”

Feds Begin Accepting Marijuana Rescheduling Comments, With Key Reform Groups Previewing How They Plan To Influence The Process

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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