As it becomes increasingly clear that marijuana legalization is not a strictly partisan issue, with surveys showing growing, bipartisan support for reform from across the political spectrum, questions remain as to what factors shape momentum toward enacting state cannabis laws.
A study recently published in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems offers some answers. Researchers looked at each state’s marijuana laws and analyzed their political, demographic, economic and social characteristics to identify various trends associated with legalization.
Specifically, they wanted to know whether there were statistically significant differences among states that were early or late adopters of medical cannabis laws or adult-use legalization as compared to non-legal states. The results indicate that differences do exist, often in ways that might not be apparent at first glance.
Here are some of the main trends identified in the study:
—Compared to non-legal states, those that have legalized marijuana for medical or adult-use (regardless of when they legalized) had larger immigrant populations. For example, states with recreational cannabis had almost two times as many immigrants as non-legal states, 12.3 percent vs. 6.8 percent of the population, on average.
—There were some interesting divides in terms of religious affiliation among states with different marijuana policies. States that were early adopters of medical cannabis have more people who identify as Catholic. Non-legal states have more Evangelical Protestants on average. And both recreational marijuana and early-adopter medical cannabis states have more people who claimed no religious affiliation compared to non-legal states.
—Politically, 77 percent of states that were quicker to legalize medical marijuana had legislatures controlled by Democrats in 2014. That trend was even more pronounced in states with adult-use legalization, where 82 percent of legislatures were Democratic-controlled. When it came to late adopters of medical cannabis, however, nine out of 10 states that legalized after 2014 had Republican-controlled legislatures.
—Voters in states that legalized for medical or recreational purposes were more likely to be approving of same-sex marriage compared to non-legal states (a range of 55-61 percent versus 44 percent on average, respectively).
—When it came to gun policy, there were no statistically significant differences in the prevalence of stand-your-ground or concealed carry laws across all categories of cannabis states, which “could be accounted for by the different political configurations in more libertarian western states, where personal freedoms are highly valued, including both freedoms to own guns and use marijuana,” the study authors wrote.
The researchers also emphasized that the results of their analysis are correlational in nature, so readers should take the findings with a grain of salt. But the data does raise some interesting points about the nature of states that have legalized marijuana at different levels over time, further demonstrating that support for cannabis policy reform is about much more than partisan politics.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.