New findings suggest Santa Cruzans like pot less than we thought
After all the toking that went into making Santa Cruz epitomic of a ganja-loving town, are we turning into … squares?
Our square-factor can’t be quantified, per se, but new data released in the 2010 Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Project (CAP) Report does show a significant decrease in the number of county residents who are OK with marijuana use.
The CAP found that only 13 percent of county residents found recreational marijuana use “acceptable” in 2009—the lowest acceptance has been in 10 years.
In addition to providing data aggregated from various sources, the CAP does a telephone survey of county residents that produces copious primary data for the report. While the gathered data includes solid figures such as the number of calls for service to the police department or the percentage of county children with healthcare, the telephone survey demonstrates things like the percentage of respondents who are happy with their overall quality of life or how safe they feel in their neighborhood.
Since 2000, the survey has included the question “How acceptable do you find the use of marijuana for recreational or non-medicinal use?” Back then, 23.7 percent of respondents found recreational marijuana use acceptable. That number continued to rise over the years, peaking at 33.5 percent in 2003. Broken down by region, North County has consistently had much higher acceptance (peaking at 44.6 percent in 2003, reaching its lowest in 2009 at 16.4 percent), while South County has always had the lowest (8.7 percent acceptance in 2009).
“The peak of acceptance was in 2003, the year that the state marijuana bill passed,” says Abigail Stevens, director of Assessment and Evaluation Services at Applied Survey Research, the firm behind the CAP Report. She’s referring to California’s SB 420, or the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which passed the same year marijuana acceptance hit its high in Santa Cruz County. “Since the passing of medicinal marijuana, there is a statistically significant decrease in community acceptance of non-medicinal or recreational use,” she adds.
The hype surrounding marijuana during the passage of SB420 could be a factor in the spike in its popularity amongst the public during that year’s survey. Another theory is that there is a correlation between the prevalence of medical marijuana use and dispensaries and overall opinion of the plant. “There has also been a lot of debate in our community and other local communities about the location of the marijuana dispensaries,” Stevens says. “[It’s] the ‘Not In My Backyard’ mentality.” Did the advent of medical marijuana dispensaries following the 2003 bill create a NIMBY backlash, causing overall feelings toward cannabis to plunge?
More pertinent, perhaps, is a side-by-side comparison of acceptance rates with other telling CAP Report data. Teenage marijuana use has risen in the last decade, as have marijuana arrests for both adults and juveniles. In the 2002-2003 school year, 25 percent of county 11th graders reported having used marijuana in the past 30 days. In 2008-2009, that figure was 30 percent. Additionally, juvenile misdemeanor marijuana arrests went up 65 percent from 2000 to 2009, and juvenile felony marijuana arrests rose 52 percent. Their elders didn’t fare much better: adult misdemeanor marijuana arrests increased by 17 percent from 2000 to 2009, and adult felony marijuana arrests jumped 12 percent.
As use and arrests went up, public opinion about recreational pot use went down. Not only have fewer people been saying they find marijuana use “acceptable,” the majority of survey respondents, at 55.5 percent, answered “not acceptable at all” (the third choice, coming in at 31 percent, was “somewhat acceptable”).
But how reliable is the CAP telephone survey, and how accurately does it reflect true public opinion? “We have a 95 percent confidence level that the opinions of the survey respondents do not differ [from] those of the general population of Santa Cruz County by more than plus-or-minus 3.4 percent,” says Stevens. This confidence rate is based on their sample size (833 people in 2009) and methodology. Although, she adds, “Of course we understand that surveys all have subtle and inherent biases. ASR has worked diligently with the project committee to reduce risks of bias and to eliminate identifiable biases, such as weighting the data and adding cell phones.”
But while they’re sure to include cell phones, land lines and residents from different demographics and areas of the county, there is still one determining factor in who’s opinion gets tallied: the respondents must be willing to commit 20 minutes to answering the survey questions. And for someone who just hit the bong, that might be 20 minutes too long.