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KHIP: New poll shows most Kentucky adults favor legalizing marijuana for medical purposes

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

Nine in 10 Kentucky adults favor legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) report, and nearly six in 10 say pot should be legalized under any circumstances. 

In addition, four in 10 Kentucky adults said they know someone who regularly uses marijuana.

KHIP, an annual telephone poll of Kentucky adults about health and health policy issues, is sponsored jointly by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health. This report follows the Foundation’s September 2019 health policy conference, which focused on the public health impacts of loosening legal restrictions on marijuana.

“What we heard at the forum – and what this poll confirms – is that support for medical marijuana is very strong, but we also learned that it’s well ahead of the science showing that marijuana is safe and effective for most of the medical conditions claimed by pro-legalization advocates,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Despite the continuing lack of evidence, dozens of states have legalized medical marijuana. If Kentucky follows suit, our goal must be to put in place measures to protect the public health going forward.”

Public health concerns discussed at the Foundation’s Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum in September 2019 included the dramatically increased potency of marijuana since the 1960s and how to ensure accurate dosage, prevent youth use, and reduce the risk of accidental poisonings, intoxicated driving, and tainted products. Speakers also noted, however, that arrests related to marijuana possession and use increase health disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged population groups.

“Still, there’s a real concern that legalizing marijuana, even for medical purposes, makes it more available and socially acceptable, including among adolescents and teens,” Chandler said. “We know that ‘normalizing’ drugs increases their use. In the midst of a youth e-cigarette epidemic and a public health crisis largely tied to vaping marijuana – lawmakers must be sure to incorporate essential protections into marijuana health policy.”

About 16 percent of Kentucky high school students use marijuana monthly, according to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. That’s down from nearly 29 percent in 1997, but the rate has held fairly steady over the past 15 years. The KHIP poll found that 40 percent of Kentucky adults have a friend or family member who uses marijuana regularly.

Meanwhile, since the late 1990s, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, despite a federal ban. 

The KHIP report found that support for medical marijuana among Kentucky adults jumped from 78 percent in 2012, the last time the poll asked this question. A greater proportion of Kentucky adults also support legalizing marijuana under any circumstances (38 percent in 2012 compared to 59 percent in 2019), or for recreational purposes (26 percent in 2012, 49 percent in 2019).

The KHIP poll did show variation in support for legalization across political parties, with a greater percentage of Democrats in favor of legalization across all three circumstances. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents said they favor legalization for medical reasons and under any circumstances, but only 38 percent of Republicans said they support recreational marijuana.
A copy of the KHIP report, Vast Majority of Kentucky Adults Favor Medical Marijuana Legalization, is available here.

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