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Public perceptions of arguments supporting and opposing recreational marijuana legalization

Emma E McGinty, Jeff Niederdeppe, Kathryn Heley, Colleen L Barry
Preventive Medicine 2017, 99: 80-86
28189806
In debates about recreational marijuana legalization, pro-legalization arguments highlighting economic and other potential policy benefits compete with anti-legalization arguments emphasizing public health risks. In 2016, we conducted a national survey using an online panel (N=979) designed to answer two main research questions: (1) How do Americans perceive the relative strength of competing arguments about recreational marijuana legalization? (2) How are perceptions of argument strength associated with public support for recreational marijuana legalization? We examined differences in attitudes among individuals living in states that have/have not legalized recreational marijuana and among Democrats/Independents/Republicans. Ordered logit regression assessed the relationship between perceived argument strength and public support for recreational marijuana legalization. Respondents rated pro-legalization arguments highlighting beneficial economic and criminal justice consequences as more persuasive than anti-legalization arguments emphasizing adverse public health effects. Respondents were more likely to agree with arguments highlighting legalization's potential to increase tax revenue (63.9%) and reduce prison overcrowding (62.8%) than arguments emphasizing negative consequences on motor vehicle crashes (51.8%) and youth health (49.6%). The highest rated anti-legalization arguments highlighted the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws (63.0%) and asserted that legalization will fail to eliminate the black market (57.2%). Respondents who endorsed pro-legalization economic and criminal justice arguments were more likely than other respondents to support legalization. Our findings indicate that, on both side of the recreational marijuana legalization debate, there are arguments that resonate with the American public. However, public health risk messages were viewed as less compelling than pro-legalization economic and criminal justice-oriented arguments.

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