Drug Law

Gender Gap in Support for Marijuana Reform

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Kate Zawidzki

As a female working in the generally male-dominated world of marijuana policy reform, you’d think I’d be accustomed to the gender gap that exists between male and female support for the taxation and regulation of marijuana. And yet, I’m continually shocked when poll after poll reveals sizeable differences among levels of support between the two genders. Although nationwide support for legalizing marijuana has never been higher, we’re going to need the backing of the ladies to push the issue over the tipping point. 

As a matter of fact, women generally tend to lag at least five percentage points behind men when it comes to support for ending marijuana prohibition. In national polling, for example, a March 2011 Pew Research Center poll found 48% of males favor marijuana legalization, while female support trailed at 42%. An October 2010 Gallup poll showed a more striking gap between male and female support, with 51% of males and only 41% of females in favor of making the use of marijuana legal.

Unfortunately, this gender gap also exists in state-level polling, as evidenced by the following cases from Colorado and Washington state. An August 2011 Public Policy Polling poll of Colorado voters found 54% of males, but only 49% of females, support making marijuana usage legal in the state, while a September 2011 Strategies 360 poll of Washington state voters showed 56% of males and a whopping 37% of females think the use of marijuana should be made legal in Washington. That’s a difference of nearly twenty percentage points!

Colorado and Washington state are notable examples here, as voters in both states will likely have the opportunity to vote on state ballot initiatives to tax and regulate marijuana in 2012. With voters in those states currently split on the issue, a boost in female support is exactly what’s needed to achieve strong majority support for taxing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. And speaking of alcohol, just as women were pivotal in bringing about the repeal of its prohibition in the 1930s, so too will they be instrumental in effecting the end of marijuana prohibition.

In fact, perhaps we can learn something from our Prohibition-era sisters. Did you know that many of the women who initially supported alcohol prohibition ultimately grew disenchanted with it and fought for its repeal? Pauline Sabin, founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, favored prohibition in the beginning because she thought it would be best for her children. But Sabin, like many others, finally came to the conclusion that the prohibition against alcohol was more dangerous and destructive than the substance itself. Perhaps, someday soon, more and more women will come to realize that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is the prohibition against it.

Though women are increasingly coming out in support for reforming our country’s marijuana laws, from “stiletto stoners” to “marijuana moms” and “ganja grannies,” we need to broaden our base to include more women who aren’t necessarily marijuana users, but who share the belief that our current marijuana policies have failed and it’s time for a new approach. Whether they’re ultimately inspired by personal liberty arguments, maternalistic concerns for children and family, issues of public safety, or economic cares related to the waste of public resources, women could very well be the driving force in getting the nation to that critical moment when the demand for the end of marijuana prohibition simply cannot be denied. I hope to see the female voters in states like Colorado and Washington leading the charge in 2012.