Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Erasing Marijuana Convictions

A new poll shows widespread support among voters for states to automatically seal the records of nonviolent criminal offenders.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal-progressive think tank and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, and GBA Strategies conducted a poll based on a 1,000-person sample national online survey of registered voters. The poll was conducted from April 25 to May 1, 2018, and results were made public the week of June 18, 2018.

The poll shows that 7 in 10 voters would support so-called clean-slate legislation to automatically seal the records of nonviolent offenders and allow people who have served their time to re-enter society and pursue work, education and family life.

Even more voters are in favor of clearing the records of those convicted of cannabis possession.

In a follow-up to the clean-slate question, the poll asked: “Would you support or oppose legislation in your state to automatically seal the records of individuals convicted of crimes related to the possession of marijuana if the person has completed his or her sentence and has not committed another criminal offense?”

Seventy-three percent would support this proposal, including 42 percent who would strongly support such a measure.

“We found support was slightly higher when you mention marijuana than when you don’t,” said Karl Agne, a founding principal at GBA Strategies, a survey research and consulting business based in Washington, DC. “Several years ago, it would have been the opposite. It’s clear that attitudes about marijuana and the criminality of marijuana are changing pretty rapidly.”

A large proportion of respondents stated support for legalizing of cannabis – a 68 percent to 32 percent margin – including 40 percent who strongly support legalization. Support for legalization was in the majority across all partisan, gender and racial groups. Among Republicans, for example, 66 percent said they would support clean slate legislation.

“I think the biggest takeaway is this shows how broad the support is across the electorate,” Agne said. “Support among Democrats continues to grow, and support among independents continues to grow, but the big change we’ve seen is among Republicans. The fact that Republicans are coming around is very encouraging. It suggests the potential to make some big gains in the short term.”

One big takeaway for Erik Altieri, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was that a gender gap among legalization supporters appears to have closed.

When NORML was working in Colorado and Washington prior to the 2012 adult-use legalization campaigns, it was observed that women supported legalization far less so than men, according to Altieri.

The Center for American Progress poll shows 69 percent of men polled would support clean slate legislation while 71 percent of women would support it. The poll shows 66 percent of men support legalization, compared with 69 percent of women.

“What preconceptions that women had five or six years ago … clearly the public education campaign assuaged those concerns,” Altieri said.

This is the first time Altieri could recall seeing a poll on clean-slate legislation, but he said the results make sense considering nine states have legalized adult use and more than half of Americans have admitted to having used marijuana.

“It’s definitely an impressive result,” Altieri said.

Party lines are also closing on the matter of legalization, with 77 percent of Democrats supporting it, followed by 62 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans.

Respondents were asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports clean-slate legislation. Thirty-one percent would be “Much more likely to vote for” such a candidate, and 27 percent would be “Somewhat more likely to vote for” a candidate who supports the legislation.

One-fourth of respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to them, while a combined 18 percent would be “somewhat” or “much less” likely to vote for a candidate who supported clean slate legislation.

Politicians may already be wise to this trend.

Numerous powerful Republican lawmakers have swung their support recently for legalizing recreational marijuana use, including Republican US Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who earlier imne June 2018 introduced a bill to protect cannabis industries in states where it’s been made legal from the federal government. President Donald Trump has said he’d likely back the measure.

“In this time where members of both parties can’t seem to agree on absolutely anything, the fact that we have such strong majorities across the political spectrum really speaks to the universality of our support,” Altieri said. “Not only are Republican voters becoming more supportive, we’re seeing more support for Republican elected officials. We’re beginning to see this no longer be a partisan issue, this is an American issue and this polling bears that out.”

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