Local approval on pot use reaching new high

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Months after marijuana sales became legal, public approval has reached a new high.

Close to 70 per cent of Lethbridge residents in the 18-to-29-year category now agree with the policy change, along with 57.2 per cent of all the men and women surveyed.

And a new study shows more than 90 per cent supported the drug’s use for medical purposes.

Public support for recreational use has increased from 43.9 per cent just four years ago, observes political scientist Faron Ellis. Under his supervision, students at Lethbridge College conducted a comprehensive “public policy” study in February.

It also found public support rising on several other issues in Lethbridge, including doctor-assisted death, same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

While not as “progressive” as Calgary, the survey shows Lethbridge residents may change their views more readily than people in Edmonton.

On the recreational marijuana question, the 57.2 per cent approval in Lethbridge compares with an even 50 per cent a year ago and 46.6 per cent in 2017. While Calgary residents registered 57.4 per cent support, Edmonton was lower at 50.6 per cent.

Ellis, research director of the Citizen Society Research Lab, expresses little surprise at the Lethbridge response to legalization last fall.

“The sky did not fall,” he observes.

If anything, Ellis says it presented a new opportunity for Lethbridge business people.

And to some extent, “It moved it out of the underground market.”

Southern Albertans are much more concerned about the impact illegal “hard” drugs are having on young people, he suggests.

Lethbridge residents are also more supportive of marijuana being used for medical purposes – 91.4 per cent vs. 89.5 a year ago. On another medical issue, 83.1 per cent approve of doctor-assisted death, up from 79.5 per cent in 2018.

Support for women’s right to choose an abortion continues to increase as well. It’s now 81.8 per cent in Lethbridge, up marginally from a year ago but increasing from 77.7 per cent five years ago.

On another personal issue, 78.5 per cent of Lethbridge residents polled agreed with legal recognition for same-sex marriages.

An ongoing study of Lethbridge citizens’ views on capital punishment shows 66.8 per cent would like to see it returned in some situations. That’s the same result as in 2013, but the response has fallen as low as 59.4 per cent since then.

While “sample variance” means numbers may change slightly from one poll to the next, Ellis notes stronger opposition to some trends among “highly religious” people in other parts of the province.

“On abortion choice and same-sex marriage, opinions of those in the ‘moderate’ and ‘non-religious’ categories continued to be slightly more progressive,” he explains.

But apart from Lethbridge, people who placed themselves in the “highly religious” category were more strongly opposed this year to marijuana – both medical and recreational – and doctor-assisted death, as well as abortion choice and equal marriage rights.

Suggests Ellis, “Social conservatives are feeling less hesitancy to speaking up against progressive trends, and more emboldened to take a more traditional stance on some of these issues.”

Even so, he points out, a majority of Alberta’s “highly religious” registered support for abortion choice, medical use of marijuana, and medical assistance with dying.

The annual “policy items” survey, conducted in mid-February, saw 882 randomly selected Lethbridge adults interviewed by phone. Ellis says that sample gives a margin of error of 3.3 per cent, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

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