Pubdate: Wed, 10 Sep 2014
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


Marijuana has become pretty normal in America.

That doesn't mean that people aren't still getting dragged off to 
jail for possession. According to FBI estimates, about 750,000 people 
were arrested for marijuana-related offenses in 2012. The vast 
majority of them were for simple possession, and although marijuana 
use is approximately equal among both groups, young African-Americans 
and Latinos are arrested at rates much higher than whites.

Those arrest numbers speak to a whole different set of social issues 
other than marijuana use, and as soon as this marijuana thing gets 
untangled, it will give law enforcement one less way to ensnare 
people of color in the legal system.

That said, there's a very interesting CivicScience report out now, 
based on data over the past two years, that shows 58 percent of 
Americans support legal marijuana that is regulated and taxed like 
alcohol. Data from the past three months shows 61 percent support. 
I'll discuss implications of those numbers later.

What interested me most about the report is that it just took the 
level of marijuana support as background for its main focus - 
marketing: "This Insight Report provides deep demographic and 
psychographic data about today's supporters of marijuana 
legalization, to [provide] marketers greater insights into the 
changing consumer landscape associated with more mainstream 
acceptance of this issue."

That means the marijuana train has left the station, and it's not 
turning around.

You know things have changed when marketing people just take 
marijuana as another factor in their marketing reports. The report 
profiles supporters of marijuana legalization by age, gender, income, 
education, political leanings, political engagement, and parental status.

But it goes much further. Now we know that marijuana supporters 
prefer Red Bull, Budweiser, the Gap, Starbucks, Chipotle, Trader 
Joe's, Whole Foods, Mac computers, and Mini cars more than marijuana 
opponents. Marijuana supporters drink more wine, are more likely to 
have Facebook accounts, and are more likely to frequently shop online.

Marijuana opponents are more likely to own a gun, more likely to 
never drink beer, and more likely to say they're very concerned about 
the economy right now.

Apparently these folks don't have much fun except out on the shooting range.

The report's summary reads: "The current state of consumers in 
support of marijuana legalization is more reflective of the behaviors 
we see among the general population. They are more likely to be in 
favor of popular mainstream brands, engaged with social media and 
exhibiting modern shopping behaviors. Marketers should be aware of 
the profile of these consumers and be ready as legalization comes to town."

People in the business world see what's coming, and they're getting 
ready for it. There's no tut-tutting about the decay of morals and 
the scourge of marijuana use. They're not worried about marijuana 
being a deadly gateway to hard drugs. They're just getting ready for 
the next generation of consumers, and it's going to be a lot more 
than a few Harold & Kumar movies (although White Castle might want to 
do a little rebranding).

"Mainstream brands are realizing that marijuana legalization is very 
popular, and they're trying to hitch their carts to our bandwagon," 
says Tom Angell, communications manager for Marijuana Majority.

Last spring, one of Stephen Colbert's pistachios commercials shows 
him visiting Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal. In the 
spot, a bald eagle exhales a cloud of smoke and falls off its stoop. 
"He's fine," says a calm Colbert as he continues munching the little 
green nuts.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Budweiser implying a double entendre 
to its classic "This Bud's for you" line. After all, when you get 
high your throat does get dry.

But what about the numbers showing 58 to 61 percent support for 
legalization? I haven't paid a lot of attention to the polls the last 
year or so, partly because they don't translate into direct policy 
change. However, we're approaching critical levels where that can 
start happening - big time.

When the support level is just over 50 percent, there can be a lot of 
dickering going on about margins of error. Plus there are a lot of 
pockets of pot opposition that can send a lot of legislators to 
Washington to oppose majority will. However, when you get to 60 
percent or above, you're starting to talk about things with no ifs, 
ands, or buts - particularly in this case, with a sample size of 
453,653. This wasn't 500 people they called one week; this was nearly 
half a million people over two years.

"This huge poll is yet another indication that marijuana legalization 
is officially a mainstream issue," Angell says. "With ending 
prohibition polling better with voters than most elected officials do 
these days, it'll be really interesting to see which 2016 contenders 
realize that supporting marijuana reform is good politics and which 
[ones] still don't get it."

Another point to consider is just how fast the trend is moving. The 
Pew Research Center released poll results in April showing 54 percent 
support for legalization. Last year, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta flipped 
the script and came out in support of medical marijuana. The New York 
Times recently came out for legalization. And reports out of Colorado 
are, by and large, showing a successful rollout of legalization.

Some state legislatures are at least seeing the handwriting on the 
wall for medical marijuana, which has 88 percent public support. 
Medical marijuana was once established by citizen petition drives. 
Now legislatures are going ahead and establishing it first. 
Unfortunately, in most of the states where legislatures establish 
medical marijuana, the laws are more conservative. For instance, 
those states generally don't allow home grows and make it available 
mainly through state-licensed or state-run dispensaries. Some states 
have enacted super restrictive CBD-only laws that are mainly 
opportunities for politicians to claim that they support medical marijuana.

But when it comes to CBD-only states, Mason Tvert of the Marijuana 
Policy Project doesn't hedge: "We don't consider them to be medical 
marijuana states," he says.

In an attempt to derail a medical marijuana petition drive last June, 
Florida's legislature enacted a CBD-only law. But it didn't work. Now 
support for an amendment to the state constitution legalizing medical 
marijuana is polling at about 64 percent. They'll vote on that in November.

More legislative support will come as public support grows, and 2016 
may be the year we get over the hump. If trends continue - and these 
things seldom turn around (see gay marriage) - by the time we're 
voting in fall 2015 there will be no way politicians can say that 
Americans are against legalizing marijuana.

"Smart politicians try to focus in on micro-constituencies, even if 
you have a majority overall," Angell says. "They want to win a 
primary election in this state, or they want to win this swing state. 
Majority support across the board is certainly meaningful, and this 
is a mainstream issue, but we've got to make sure the key 
constituencies that politicians are concerned with are on our side."

The bottom line is that as mainstream as marijuana has become, police 
are still knocking down doors and raiding dispensaries. It's hard to 
convince someone cooling their heels in jail that things are changing.

Support for marijuana legalization has to turn into pushing for 
effective policy change.

Is that a Red Bull you're drinking? Will you sign my petition?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom