A fascinating new national poll from Quinnipiac University shows that men and women disagree markedly on the question of marijuana legalization.  While men surveyed strongly favor legalization by a margin of 59 to 36 percent, women oppose it by a clear majority of 52-44 percent.  This 15-point gender gap in support for marijuana legalization –let’s call it the “pot gender gap” — is not quite as large as the 20-point gender gap in support for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but it is striking.  What’s most interesting, though, is how it confounds the expectations set by the voting gender gap.  In voting, women trend more liberal and Democratic, while men trend more conservative and Republican.  Yet with the pot gender gap, we see women taking the more conservative, law-and-order approach.

Why?  What explains this?  Is it just that more men than women are potheads?  Tempting as it is to draw that conclusion, NarcoLaw resists such glib and easy explanations.  

In search of an answer, we took a look at what experts have said about the causes of the presidential-election gender gap. Turns out there is some disagreement on this point.  Nate Silver attributed the presidential election gender gap in this cycle primarily to the differences between the parties on obvious “women’s issues,” such as reproductive rights.  However, as Notre Dame Associate Professor of Political Science Christina Wolbrecht has pointed out, polling data does not consistently bear out the existence of an underlying gender gap on reproductive rights issues.  While acknowledging that many questions about the voting gender gap remain unanswered, Prof. Wolbrecht points to differences between men and women on social welfare issues — poverty, civil rights, the safety net — as a more potent explanation.

If she’s right that women vote Democratic out of concern for broader social welfare issues, what conclusions can we draw about the causes of women’s opposition to marijuana legalization?  NarcoLaw’s best guess (an informed guess, but a guess nevertheless) is that female opposition stems from questions about the impact legalization will have on public health, crime and the social fabric.  With the Washington state legalization initiative set to take effect tomorrow, the broader consequences of legalization remain an enormous unknown.  Women, as the Quinnipiac poll suggests, remain concerned, and unpersuaded that legalization is the answer.