Why do men want to legalize pot more than women do?

A new poll suggests men are far more likely than women to support legalized marijuana for recreational use, and experts say the reason why is simple. 

Seth Perlman/AP
In this Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 photo, Ataraxia's inventory manager Anthony Marsico inspects the "Flower Room" at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.

Recent polling in presidential swing states suggests that the majority of Ohio and Florida voters support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Pennsylvania voters were mixed on the issue. And for some reason, men were far more likely than women to approve of legal cannabis.

In Quinnipiac polling of Florida voters from September 25 to October 5, 57 percent of men approved of legal marijuana compared to 46 percent of women. And if marijuana were legalized for recreational use in Florida, 70 percent of women say they would ‘definitely not use’ the drug, compared to only 59 percent of men.

Similarly, 59 percent of male Ohio voters support marijuana legalization, compared to 47 percent of female voters. And 71 percent of women, and only 57 percent of men, said they would ‘definitely not use’ the drug if it were legalized.  

The gender discrepancy in Ohio and Florida disappears when voters are asked about legalized marijuana for medical use, as both genders significantly favor legalizing marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.

“If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then the Red Planet might be the more spacey place,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll said in a statement. “Men are more likely than women to support legalization of marijuana for recreational use.”

And a poll published by the Pew Research Center this spring shows similar evidence at the national level. Men out-support women in marijuana legalization 57 to 49 percent.

Dr. Tammy Anderson, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, told The Christian Science Monitor that males support recreational marijuana more because they smoke it more.

“Men historically and presently report a higher rate of illegal drug use than do women,” Dr. Anderson explained by phone. “Men smoke marijuana more frequently and more recently than women so a discrepancy would make sense … they want it to be legalized so they don’t get in trouble.”

So why is pot ‘a guy’s thing’? Anderson says it has everything to do with society.

“There is more lawbreaking behavior in males. ‘Boys will be boys’ encaptures the culture moniker,” Anderson says. And because females are more concerned with social expectations, the difference comes down to gender norms.

This image is reinforced through a “pot smoker stereotype,” according to Dr. Wendy Chapkis, Director of the Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Southern Maine. “The slacker attitude relies on a mismatch between expectation and condition; this is why it is most available to white heterosexual men with some measure of class privilege.”

Dr. Chapkis says the present gender stereotype is lacking perspective.

“Inattention to gendered stereotypes and inequalities creates obstacles to women’s full participation in drug policy reform and complicates efforts to end marijuana prohibition in the US,” says Chapkis.

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