Two decades after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, voters now overwhelmingly support an initiative to legitimize the drug for recreational use, according to a poll released late Thursday.
Proposition 64, the well-funded initiative to allow those 21 and older to carry, use and share up to an ounce of marijuana, is backed by a 2-to-1 ratio of likely voters.
The Field Poll/Institute for Governmental Studies survey found that 60 percent intend to vote for pot legalization on the Nov. 8 ballot, the largest proportion to express their support since the poll began tracking views about marijuana laws nearly a half century ago. Just 31 percent are opposed and 9 percent are undecided.
“The broad-base nature of support for marijuana legalization is really the top finding here,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “And it does lead to the conclusion that this is likely to pass, especially compared to previous marijuana initiatives.”
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The poll shows support for the initiative, which is being closely monitored because of the state’s size, influence and reputation as a leader on social issues, includes majorities across every age, region and ethnicity. Only Republicans, conservatives and those with high school degrees or lower registered less than majority support.
This could be a monumental year for drug policy in America. California and four other states, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine, are set to weigh measures to end recreational pot prohibition, while Florida and three others take runs at allowing medical cannabis.
California voters strongly rejected a recreational marijuana measure in 1972 before making history in becoming the first to approve medicinal pot in 1996. Four states, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, have legalized recreational marijuana since California voters shot down Proposition 19 in 2010.
The Field Poll’s September survey that year found the legalization proposal ahead by 7 percentage points, 49 percent to 42 percent. By a poll taken in late October, undecided voters broke against it, and the measure ultimately lost, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.
Perhaps the most dramatic shift over the past six years has been among voters 65 years and older.
In October 2010, just 29 percent of the older group said they would vote “yes” on Proposition 19, while 63 percent said “no.” The current survey of Proposition 64 found members of that age group backing the initiative 52 percent to 37 percent.
DiCamillo described the seniors’ opposition as slowly “fading away.”
The generational battle lines over marijuana have long been fought among older voters, including those with uneasy memories of the free-wheeling 1960s. The reaction to the alternative culture among the aging crowd had been predominately negative, DiCamillo said.
“As that cohort of seniors is changing over, and as more baby boomers move into the senior segment, they have much less negative views of marijuana than the cohort of people they are replacing,” he said.
To a growing share of those voters, DiCamillo added, marijuana is simply “not that big a deal.”
Other key demographic groups now favoring legalization include Latinos (57 percent to 37 percent); and African Americans (67 percent to 26 percent). A 2010 exit poll of Proposition 19 by Edison Research found that Latinos rebuffed the measure by 10 percentage points and African Americans repelled it by 6 percentage points.
Voters 65 and older forcefully voted it down, 66 percent to 34 percent, the exit polling showed.
Proposition 64 counts Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as its most prominent elected backer and the billionaire tech entrepreneur Sean Parker as its chief financier. The effort has raised at least $14 million, compared with opponents’ nearly $700,000, since the beginning of the year.
In addition to using, possessing and transporting pot, it also would allow people to grow up to six cannabis plants. The proposal calls for a 15 percent tax on retail sales, in addition to state and local sales taxes, and a cultivation tax of $9.25 an ounce for marijuana buds.
Proponents – arguing that marijuana prohibition has failed, with enforcement landing disproportionately on communities of color – have taken pains to explain the differences between the current legalization measure and the one in 2010. They contend youths will have a tougher time getting their hands on pot while downplaying the expected revenue from legalization.
Critics have sought to stir fears about profit-driven pot corporations creating the next “Big Tobacco.” They assert that children will be exposed to weed advertisements and enticing, pot-laced sweets, and warn about the lack of a statewide standard for driving while impaired such as exists for alcohol.
The latest survey also showed voters by a similar 2-to-1 ratio backing Proposition 63, a gun control and ammunition measure also championed by Newsom. The measure would, among other provisions, require background checks and state Justice Department authorization for ammunition purchases, and ban possession of large-capacity magazines.
Gov. Jerry Brown this summer signed a sweeping package of gun control bills, including some with overlapping language, but said in a statement at the time that voters will have the opportunity to go further in November, “if they choose.”
Provisions of Proposition 63 with no legislative equivalent would create a process for convicted felons to relinquish their firearms and make the theft of a firearm a felony. The measure’s large-capacity magazine ban, which proponents say gives prosecutors more discretion than the legislation, would supersede the law if passed.
Reviewing the poll results of Proposition 63, DiCamillo said, “Californians are taking on this view that we need greater restrictions.”