On the cusp of a major meeting in Hempstead next week when legalizing recreational marijuana will be discussed, a new poll has found about half those surveyed in the metropolitan area favor decriminalizing pot.
Precisely what Long Island and New York City residents think about the hot-button issue is contained in a survey commissioned by South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside.
When asked on a scale of one to five, with one meaning not dangerous and five being extremely so, 22 percent of respondents viewed marijuana not the least bit hazardous; 28 percent considered it extremely dangerous. The rest registered between the two extremes.
The poll arrives as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has taken steps toward considering legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. A draft of that legislation is expected in November.
A state government-sponsored community meeting to discuss legalizing pot in New York is scheduled for Sept. 27, 6-8 p.m., at Hofstra University. South Nassau’s new survey has no connection with the state.
“Most people have very strong opinions one way or the other about legalizing marijuana. They’re either for it or against it,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine at South Nassau, who described the poll as one in a series of surveys commissioned in recent months by the hospital on a variety of public health concerns.
If he had been among local residents polled, Glatt said he would rank among those opposed to legalizing marijuana because “its full dangers are not yet known.”
His colleague, Dr. Adhi Sharma, South Nassau’s chief medical officer, took the opposite view: “Marijuana is relatively benign compared with other agents,” said Sharma, who is also a toxicologist.
He cited the toll taken on society by alcohol, which poses not only problems with addiction, but immense public safety hazards when drunken drivers are taken into account.
The survey, conducted for the hospital by LJR Custom Strategies over seven days last month — Aug. 6-13 — showed mixed opinions on a variety of questions, including legalization. Six hundred people were surveyed and results can be extrapolated to the overall regional population, the doctors said.
While 50 percent of those polled favored legalization, not everyone was strongly supportive. Thirty-seven percent of respondents “strongly supported legalizing recreational marijuana"; 13 percent supported legalization “but not strongly.”
By contrast, 40 percent of respondents were opposed to legalization.
Of that number, 36 percent were “strongly opposed,” with 4 percent noting they were opposed, but not strongly so. Remaining respondents had no opinion, neither favoring nor opposing legalization.
Respondents found common ground on questions involving public safety and use of potential tax revenues from marijuana sales. Seventy-four percent said they were concerned about people driving under marijuana’s influence.
In another question about driving while high, 57 percent were unaware that a field sobriety test does not exist to determine whether a reckless driver has smoked marijuana.
Eighty-six percent of respondents favored directing tax revenue from marijuana sales toward public health initiatives.
On the question of whether pot is addictive, 49 percent considered it “a gateway” to potent controlled substances. Thirty-five percent of respondents disagreed with that statement, and 16 percent had no opinion.
“Most of us no longer call marijuana a gateway drug,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Family and Children’s Association in Mineola. He was not connected with South Nassau’s survey.
However, Reynolds, an expert in the treatment of drug abuse, said although marijuana was not addictive, some people became habitual users. He is a member of the Governor’s Working Group, which has been charged with crafting draft legislation on legalizing marijuana.
“There is a percentage of the people who will smoke marijuana and become dependent on the drug, and we see this particularly in young people,” Reynolds said. “And the younger people are when they start using it, the more likely it is that they will develop problems with it.”