New polls sponsored by anti-cannabis lobbyist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) indicate that the vast majority of Americans want to reform the country’s marijuana laws, although the group is trying to suggest otherwise.

Earlier this month, SAM commissioned Emerson College to conduct national and state surveys asking 1,000 registered voters to share their opinions on cannabis legalization. Out of the four options presented, a majority of respondents (38 percent) said they favored full federal adult-use cannabis legalization, and 30 percent said they thought weed should be legalized for medical use only. Another 19 percent preferred decriminalizing personal possession and use, and only 14 percent said they actually wanted federal cannabis prohibition to continue unchecked. 

In other words, 86 percent of the respondents said that they wanted the US government to legalize or decriminalize weed in some form. Yet, despite this fact, SAM is trying to spin the data to suggest that a majority of Americans actually oppose cannabis reform. In a press release, the group said the poll shows that “62% of registered voters do not support legalizing marijuana when presented with other, non-legalization policy options.”

These polls do indeed indicate much lower overall support for full adult-use legalization than other recent surveys have. Over the past several years, annual Gallup surveys have found that support for full federal legalization has grown consistently each year, peaking at 68 percent in 2020 and remaining at that level in 2021. Other recent polls conducted by The Hill, Pew Research Center, and even FOX News have reported that between 62 and 75 percent of voters want weed to be fully legal.

But instead of being content to report the reduced support for adult-use pot, SAM attempted to use infographics and semantics to imply that most Americans actually oppose legalization altogether. The press release includes a chart that compares the percentage of people who support full adult-use legalization with those who support “other non-legalization marijuana policies,” and indicates that more people preferred this second category.

This “non-legalization” policies category deceptively includes people who support federal medical cannabis legalization, though. In addition to the 38 percent of voters who support adult-use legalization, another 30 percent support medical marijuana legalization. To put it plainly, 68 percent of voters who responded to these polls want the US government to legalize cannabis in some form.

SAM, which was founded by former White House drug adviser Kevin Sabet, has been advocating against cannabis legalization since 2013. Since 2016, the group has raised over $4.5 million in donations, which it uses to fund campaigns to encourage voters and politicians to vote against legalization ballot initiatives or laws. 

In 2020, SAM spent nearly $100,000 on unsuccessful attempts to discourage states from legalizing weed, but its expenditures dropped to $30,000 last year. The organization has claimed that it is not funded by the opioid, tobacco, alcohol, or prison industries, but the group has also taken legal steps to keep its actual donors a secret. New York’s public ethics commission denied the group’s petition to hide their donors from the public in 2019, though.

This year, SAM is focusing its efforts on Maryland and New Hampshire, two somewhat conservative states that are currently considering legalization. During its new round of polls, the group found that only 47 percent of New Hampshire voters and 45 percent of Maryland voters supported full adult-use legalization, suggesting that these efforts to legalize may fail this year. But again, SAM also uses the same infographic trickery to suggest that voters who support medical marijuana legalization actually somehow oppose marijuana legalization.

SAM is likely to continue dumping tens of thousands of dollars into its lobbying efforts in 2022, but its own polls indicate that only 14 percent of voters actually support their efforts to keep cannabis entirely illegal.