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VOL. 38 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 21, 2014

MTSU poll: Tennesseans show surprising support for medical marijuana

By Hollie Deese

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Middle Tennessee State University’s Dr. Ken Blake was genuinely surprised with the results of his recent poll on state support of medical marijuana.

“There really aren’t many people in Tennessee who would oppose legalizing marijuana, at least for medical purposes, and that came as kind of a surprise to me,” says the associate professor of journalism.

“That has been the trend nationally for some time now, and while Tennessee does follow national trends, what tends to happen – particularly on social issues like this – Tennessee tends to be a bit more conservative than the rest of the nation.

“I was a bit surprised that opposition was so low in Tennessee. It was a bit of an eye-opener for us.”

Legal or not?

When asked whether they thought the use of marijuana should be legalized for any usage, 33 percent of Tennesseans polled said it should be made legal, 57 percent said it should remain banned, and the rest weren’t sure.

Of the 57 percent who opposed legalization, two-thirds stated marijuana should be allowed for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription.

That, Blake says, means only 18 percent of Tennesseans say marijuana should remain entirely banned, even for medical purposes.

“The poll underscores the importance of distinguishing between support for permitting general marijuana use and support for permitting medical marijuana use,” Blake says.

The poll was conducted Jan. 23-26 with 600 randomly selected Tennesseans, and has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

Blake says this is the first time the school has polled people about the issue.

“We decided it had been around long enough for people to form opinions about it, and obviously there is some legislation pending so it seemed like the right time – past time – to ask about the issue,” Blake says.

Another aspect of the poll that surprised Blake was that opinions on marijuana legalization broke sharpest along religious – not political – lines.

“I expected it to be more politicized than it was,” Blake says.

In the poll, 40 percent of self-described evangelical Christians support a ban on all except medical uses, and 48 percent of non-evangelicals favor legalization of marijuana use in general.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of Democrats favor general legalization, 44 percent of Republicans support a ban on all but medical uses, and independents are split nearly evenly between general legalization and allowing only medical uses. About a quarter or fewer in each party favor a total ban.

“I sort of expected for evangelical Christians to be flat-out opposed to legalizing medical marijuana for any reason and non-evangelicals to be less opposed, if not mostly supportive,” Blake says. “It turns out that people in Tennessee who are not evangelical Christians are more likely to favor using marijuana for any use, recreational or medical or otherwise. The largest group of evangelical Christians actually support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.”

Fully 68 percent of Tennesseans in the current poll identify themselves as evangelical

Blake says one thing the poll makes very clear is that people who are for the absolute ban of marijuana in Tennessee are substantially outnumbered.

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