Poll: 59 percent of Pennsylvania voters support legalizing recreational cannabis

(Katheirne Hitt/Flickr)

As Lt. Gov. John Fetterman tours the state seeking input on recreational cannabis, a clear majority of Pennsylvania voters say in a new poll they support legalization.

A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday shows 59 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana. That number is unchanged from F&M’s May 2017 survey.

The number of voters who said they do not support cannabis legalization rose from 31 percent in 2017 to 34 percent in 2019.

Attitudes toward marijuana dramatically shifted in Pennsylvania between May 2006 — when F&M first asked the question in its survey — and May 2017. The number of respondents who said they support legalizing marijuana grew from 22 percent to 56 percent during that time.

Voter support for legalization has leveled out in recent years. But at least one Pennsylvania official’s stance has shifted — slightly.

As recently as August, Gov. Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania was not “ready for recreational marijuana.” But just a few months later, as New York and New Jersey moved toward legalization, he announced on Twitter that it was “time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look” at the issue.

That “serious and honest look” has taken the form of a 67-county listening tour headed by Fetterman, who is personally in favor of legalization.

Supporters who attended events in Dauphin, Lancaster, and Schuylkill counties cited personal freedom, criminal justice, and a possible financial windfall as reasons to legalize cannabis.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale estimates that legalization would bring in $581 million in revenue annually.

Opponents from the addiction treatment world expressed concern over a lack of research and the potential to create another drug crisis.

Even with a majority of Pennsylvanians on board, Republican leadership in the General Assembly seems unlikely to advance legalization legislation.

Shortly after Wolf made his announcement, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, called the idea of legalizing cannabis “reckless and irresponsible.”

“Recreational marijuana is a mind-altering narcotic which will harm our youth as it is a depressant and a gateway drug to other illegal substances,” Corman said in a statement. “Combine that with a lack of credible research on the societal costs and opposition from prosecutors, the medical community and law enforcement and you have the makings of a catastrophe.”

Corman’s counterpart in the House, Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, voted against the creation of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. Cutler in January told LNP, “The priorities of the House Republican Caucus do not include legalizing federally prohibited drugs.”

F&M surveyed 540 registered voters — 254 Democrats, 216 Republicans, and 70 independents —between March 18 and March 24, 2019. The sample error is plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.



  1. RE: Gateway Drug

    It’s not any particular substance. Drug abuse has much more to do with personality, genetics, and who people associate with. Use of any “gateway” drug is linked to a greater likelihood of hard drug use in the future, including alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, which are generally used before cannabis. The gateway drug “theory”, that a unique pharmacological effect of cannabis causes the use of hard drugs, has been discredited many peer reviewed studies that have examined it.
    [Joy et al. 1999; Morral et al. 2002; Cleveland HH & Wiebe RP. 2008; Reissig et al. 2008; Wen et al. 2014; Tristan et al. 2012; Tarter et al. 2006; Van Gundy K & Rebellon CJ. 2010; Vanyukov et al. 2012; Barry et al. 2016]

    Putting cannabis in the underground market further exposes its consumers to hard drugs. This is like going to a beer distributor who also sells opioids, cocaine, and meth. Also, when people realize that they were for the most part lied to about the negative effects of illegal cannabis, respect for all laws, especially drug laws, is eroded. This further increases the likelihood of experimentation with other illegal drugs.

    Given an interest in recreational substances combined with a willingness to try illegal substances, cannabis is predictably, due to its popularity, the first illegal substance encountered. This does not mean that cannabis caused later drug use, cannabis use was simply a result of the same influencing factors as illegal hard drug use. The “gateway theory” is a simple observation of a typical sequence and has little to no utility in reducing drug abuse. A recent extensive review concluded that: “The promotion of the erroneous gateway theory ultimately does the public a disservice, including the hindering of intervention.” [Vanyukov et al. 2012]

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