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Medicinal Marijuana: Is It What the Doctor Ordered?

Medicinal Marijuana: Is It What the Doctor Ordered?

by Coleen McMurray

In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Bush administration's appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling that allows doctors to freely discuss medicinal marijuana with their patients without penalty. While the case does not legalize medicinal marijuana, it paves the way for physicians to discuss it as a treatment option. Currently, physician prescriptions or recommendations for marijuana are reportedly legal in 9 states and 35 states acknowledge the drug's medicinal value.

How do Americans feel about the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes? A November Gallup Poll* shows that three-quarters (75%) of the nation's adults are in favor of allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients in order to ease pain and suffering. Twenty-two percent of Americans oppose such an action. The level of support for medicinal marijuana is significantly higher than that for making "the use of marijuana legal" more generally, at just 34%.

While there is widespread support for the idea of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, that support varies across certain demographic categories. Adults aged 65 and older (62%) are less likely than those under 65 (77%) to favor its use. Differences also emerge based on educational attainment -- those with at least some college education are more in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes than those with a high school education or less (79% vs. 68%, respectively).

Ideology also appears to relate to opinion on the issue -- self-classified liberals (89%) are 25 percentage points more likely than self-described conservatives (64%) to favor making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe.

Bottom Line

While Americans are mostly in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, most of them draw the line when it comes to legalizing marijuana outright. The survey indicates that a majority of Americans say that there is a place for marijuana's medical use, but seem less inclined to support it for recreational purposes.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 10-12, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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