Strong support for legalization of marijuana in B.C., but 58 % believe this will increase impaired driving

NEWS POLL FOR POTTHE notion of legalizing and taxing marijuana is very popular in British Columbia, although concerns over an increase in cases of impaired driving persists, a new Insights West poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of British Columbian adults, two-thirds of residents (67%) say they support the legalization of marijuana in Canada, including 72% of those aged 18 to 34 and 77% of Vancouver Island residents.

More than four-in-five residents (84%) say they are familiar with discussions related to marijuana legalization.

British Columbians were asked a separate question, which looked into different options to deal with marijuana. The top choice for residents is still legalization (38%), but 24% support decriminalizing marijuana and a similar proportion (27%) believes the substance should only be available for medicinal purposes.

Only 7% of British Columbians think marijuana should always be illegal—including 15% of BC Conservative voters in the 2013 provincial election.


Arguments for legalization


Across the province, 87% of residents believe taxing marijuana would generate revenues that can be used to benefit all Canadians. Almost four-in-five British Columbians also think dispensaries are a safer way to sell marijuana (78%) and believe marijuana has legitimate health benefits (also 78%).

Three-in-four residents (75%) think legalizing marijuana would allow police to focus on other things, instead of chasing marijuana producers and traffickers. About two thirds of British Columbians also think that marijuana should not be compared to other drugs, like cocaine or heroin (68%), that legalization will decrease gang violence (67%), and that prohibition of marijuana has failed to control production and use (66%).

Half of residents (50%) believe marijuana is a substance that many Canadians enjoy, so legalizing it makes sense. However, only 44% think legalization would not lead to an increase in use, and just 42% agree with the notion that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.


Arguments against legalization


More than half of British Columbians believe legalizing marijuana will lead to both an increase in impaired driving (58%) and more widespread use (55%), and half (51%) classify it as a “harmful substance.”

Smaller proportions of British Columbians think legalization will lead to more children and teenagers using marijuana (45%), as well as increased risks for mental illnesses (33%). Two-in-five residents (39%) consider marijuana a “gateway drug” that leads people to try other, more dangerous drugs.

Just over a third of residents (35%) believe that all marijuana dispensaries should shut down, and say Canadians who need medical marijuana can get it through the federally regulated system.

“The notion of taxing marijuana sales to generate revenues that can be invested back into the community is popular even among residents who do not favour legalization,” says Mario Canseco, Vice President, Public Affairs, Insights West. “On the other hand, even residents who would like to see marijuana legalized are concerned over a possible increase in cases of impaired driving.”


The Vancouver approach


The City of Vancouver approved new regulations for the roughly 100 marijuana dispensaries that already operate in the city. Two-thirds of British Columbians (67%) agree with Vancouver’s decision to approve these new regulations. Support for the Vancouver approach is high across all demographics, with large majorities of residents who voted for the BC NDP (79%), the BC Greens (also 79%) and the BC Liberals (64%) in the 2013 provincial election endorsing this method.

British Columbians are highly supportive of two of Vancouver’s specific measures, with 89% agreeing with preventing marijuana dispensaries from operating within 300 metres of schools, community centres, and other dispensaries.

In addition, 64% agree with charging marijuana dispensaries a $30,000 licence fee. Support is considerably lower, however, for banning the sale of edible marijuana products, such as cookies and brownies (41%, with 52% voicing disagreement).