Pubdate: Wed, 04 Nov 2015
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2015 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Dave Mabell
Page: A1



When Canada's new government changes the laws about marijuana, it
won't ruffle too many feathers in southern Alberta.

Support for decriminalizing use of the herb for "recreational
purposes" has grown in recent years, a new study shows. Today, more
than half of the region's adults (52.2 per cent) agree with Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau's plan to stop prosecuting Canadians who use

That's up from 35.2 per cent just six years ago, reports political
scientist Faron Ellis. Southern Albertans are also slightly more
favourable to the change than others across the province (51.1 per
cent) although the province-wide response has remained above 50 per
cent since 2013.

Issues in enforcing the existing laws may be one of the reasons
Albertans are looking for change, he suggests.

"It's very selective," with police laying relatively few charges for
simple possession. And if charges are laid, Ellis notes, the courts
are apt to hand down a suspended sentence on a first-time conviction.

As a result, Ellis says, police are more likely to confiscate the
goods instead of taking someone to court. And along with other
Canadians they're watching developments in the U.S., where four states
and the District of Columbia have legalized possession.

"There's a lot to learn from what's happening there," and Canada's new
government will undoubtedly be paying attention.

Ellis points out the survey - asking the same public policy questions
including marijuana use year after year - was taken before the federal
Liberals' victory on Oct. 19.

But the study, conducted by the Citizen Society Research Lab at
Lethbridge College, does show marked differences on the issue between
Albertans who follow one political party or another.

Among Albertans who told the survey questioners they vote Conservative
federally, there was 40.7 per cent support for the change and 59.3 per
cent opposition. But among Liberals, there was 68.2 per cent support -
and more than 73 per cent among Greens. From those who told pollsters
they were undecided how they'd vote on Oct. 19, there was 55.6 per
cent opposition. Age was another key indicator, with 58.2 per cent
support noted from those in the 18-29 age bracket, 53.8 in the 30-44
age group and an even 50 per cent in the 45-64 group. Men (57.7 per
cent) showed greater support than women, and those who rarely or never
attend a religious service differed from those who attend twice a
month or more, 63.2 vs. 36.6 per cent.

Asked about the medical use of marijuana, however, more than 80 per
cent of Conservatives - and 75.7 per cent of the most religious - were
in favour. The Liberals, New Democrats and Greens were all 88 per cent
in favour or higher.

Ellis compares the growing acceptance of marijuana use to the growth
in support for same-gender marriage rights while that question was
being debated a decade earlier. In Lethbridge, he recalls, surveys
initially showed 2:1 opposition to the change. But support passed the
50 per cent mark as members of Parliament and other leaders took up
the debate.

"That seems to be what happens when more people engage in the debate,"
as they are now with recreational marijuana.

As to the once-contentious issue of equal rights to marriage, the
latest study shows Albertans are more than 81 per cent in favour - a
number that's steadily increasing year by year. But even six years
ago, Ellis notes, about two-thirds of Albertans surveyed said they
backed Canada's expanded marriage rights

On another hot-button issue, the study showed federal Conservatives
ahead of New Democrats (79.2 vs. 77.8 per cent) in support of
doctor-assisted suicide. Among Liberals and undecided voters, there
was more than 82 per cent support. Religious activity was a deciding
factor for many who responded to this question, with 52.4 per cent of
the frequent attenders in favour compared with 92.5 who attend seldom
or never.

On the study's other medical issue where churches hold various views,
more than 80 per cent of Alberta men and women polled said they backed
a woman's right to seek an abortion. That response has remained
constant, Ellis says, over the seven years the question has been asked.

While those most involved in the life of a church - whether a
progressive or conservative denomination - are reported 56.3 per cent
in support of the woman's right to choose, that number rises to 91.4
per cent among those who don't attend.

Federal Conservatives were reported 76.3 per cent in favour, while NDP
supporters were at 84.2 per cent and Liberals at 90.3.

On most of the study's questions, Ellis points out, men and women
responding to the phone calls were more "progressive" than in rural

"On a regional basis, Calgarians have consistently been the most
supportive of abortion choice, although regional differences are
slight," he says.

"Support for same-sex marriage equality is higher in the two
metropolitan centres than it is in the rest of Alberta, although
support outside of the major cities is strong and consistent."

And support for decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana "is
relatively consistent throughout the province."

The study, conducted Oct. 3-8, included 961 adult Albertans reached by
wired or wireless telephone. It's described as having a margin of
error of 3.16 per cent, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
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MAP posted-by: Matt