Virginians Support Legalizing Recreational Cannabis, Poll Finds

A new poll indicates a sharp increase from two years ago in support of adult-use marijuana legalization in Virginia.

Despite current state marijuana laws, a statewide survey reveals 61 percent of Virginians now support legalizing recreational cannabis. A new University of Mary Washington (UMW) survey indicates many residents have changed their stance since 2017.

The latest UMW poll was conducted in September and found by a margin of 61 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed, Virginians support legalizing recreational use cannabis for adults. The level of support for marijuana found in the recent survey is markedly higher than that from a 2017 UMW survey, when 39 percent of respondents voiced favor for the legalization of cannabis for personal use.

The 2017 poll also found that 41 percent supported medical marijuana legalization and 17 percent believed marijuana should continue to be illegal.

The University of Mary Washington is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. To gather information for the UMW survey, “University of Mary Washington’s Virginia Survey Fall 2019,” the company Research America Inc. Interviews surveyed adults 18 and over in Virginia using cellphones and landlines.

Who Supports Marijuana Legalization in Virginia?

The new UMW survey suggests that political affiliations may influence a person’s attitudes toward marijuana legalization. Roughly three-quarters (72 percent) of Democratic respondents favored legalization, while 62 percent of Independents and 41 percent of Republicans supported legalization.

The survey found majority support within different ethnic backgrounds, with two-thirds (66 percent) of African Americans favoring legalization, and well over half (58 percent) of whites and 72 percent of Latinos in support.

Virginians 65 years of age and older were the most anti-legalization age group in the survey, with only 36 percent voicing support for legalization. The majority of all other age groups supported legalization, with the highest support (80 percent) from respondents 25 and under.

As far as regional support, the survey found that a majority of voters in all five regions of the state support legalization. The lowest percentages of support (52 percent) came from the northwest part of the state, while the highest (65 percent) came from Northern Virginia.

Marijuana Laws in Virginia

Despite that a majority of Virginians support legalization, recreational-use marijuana is illegal in Virginia and possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor. A Virginia state commission studied decriminalization in 2017 and several decriminalization bills have been introduced by Virginia lawmakers in the last few years, but none have gathered any real momentum.

Virginia lawmakers passed a highly conservative medical cannabis law in 2015 allowing cannabis extracts with no more than 5 percent of THC to be used by individuals with intractable epilepsy. Since then, lawmakers have expanded the medical marijuana program to include patients with any condition that practitioners believe would benefit from cannabis.

In March 2019, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a bill that expanded that state’s medical marijuana program even further, allowing Virginians to obtain a certificate for use of THC-A (a non-intoxicating cannabis compound) and other cannabinoid products from a doctor, physician assistant, or licensed nurse practitioner.

The 2019 bill also made cannabis more accessible by expanding the type of available THC-A products to include oils, capsules, lollipops, lozenges, patches, and others with a 10 mg cap on the amounts of THC within each serving.

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