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"2016 could be the biggest year for marijuana reform yet." (Photo: Cannabis Culture/flickr/cc)

Polling Points to Support for Pot Legalization Efforts in Five States

Recreational marijuana legalization questions will appear on five ballots this election day, in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada

Deirdre Fulton

If recent polls are to be believed, recreational marijuana legalization measures are likely to pass in at least four states on November 8.

Pot legalization questions will appear on five ballots this election day, in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. (Voters will field medical marijuana questions in an additional four states: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.)

The polling is favorable for four of the five recreational-use initiatives, as both The Hill and the Washington Post reported this week, though both publications offered the caveat that surveys have a hard time predicting the outcomes of ballot fights in general and marijuana-related issues in particular. 

In Arizona, where opioid maker Insys Therapeutics was recently exposed for bankrolling opposition to the legalization campaign, a late-August poll showed 50 percent of registered voters in favor of Proposition 205, 40 percent opposed, and 10 percent undecided. "That result is sharply at odds with a July poll of likely voters showing that only 39 percent said they favored the measure," the Post noted. 

Meanwhile, in California, "voters appear to be the most willing to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes," The Hill reported, with a number of recent surveys putting support for Proposition 64—"The Adult Use of Marijuana Act"—well above 50 percent.

"California was the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, back in 1996," The Hill pointed out. "Golden State voters rejected attempts to allow recreational use in 1972 and 2010. Today, majorities of voters in every region of the state and in every age and ethnic bracket support legalization."

In both Maine and Massachusetts, polls show voters leaning in favor of legalization measures. Support for Question 1 in Maine has hovered around 53 percent for months, with the most recent survey finding 53 percent of respondents in support, 38 percent opposed, and 10 percent undecided.

In Massachusetts, Question 4 most recently garnered 53 percent in favor, 40 percent against, and seven percent still undecided. The Boston Globe this week reported that "[a] vote to legalize would amount to a stiff rebuke to the state’s political, medical, and religious establishment."

Lastly, in Nevada, two surveys conducted over the same two days in late September came up with vastly different results. A Suffolk University poll from September 27-29 showed the pro-legalization side ahead with 57 percent (to 33 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided); while one from Bendixen & Amandi International found supporters ahead by just one percentage point, 47 percent to 46 percent, with 7 percent undecided. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, which commissioned the latter poll, reported:

Anthony Williams, special projects director of the polling company, said legalization supporters should be worried about these results.

"You would really want to have 55 to 60 percent support to feel confident heading into Election Day," Williams said. "These things always tend to leak oil heading into the end."

"These poll numbers are not surprising," Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Post in an email. "Most Americans agree that the responsible adult use of cannabis ought not to be criminalized. The battle now is finding consensus regarding the details of how best to regulate this market."

To that end, each of these state battles has seen divisions even among those who generally want to end the war on weed.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, "Proposition 64 has split the medical cannabis community, with some seeing new opportunity and others fearing it will wreck a system that is working for nearly 800,000 medical pot card holders."

Seacoast Online, a New Hampshire publication, similarly reported of the campaign in Maine:

Some favor legalization to ensure adults have access to marijuana, even those who seek it for medical purposes but do not qualify for medicinal use now, to use it without fear of criminal repercussion. Others are concerned the current law, as written, could weaken the medicinal marijuana program for caregivers and patients.

The battle creates a division among those who, generally speaking, want to end the prohibition of marijuana. It pits those championing the legislation, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, against others, like the Facebook group, Maine Cannabis Patients and Caregivers Defeating MPP, which has more than 1,500 members. MPP stands for Marijuana Policy Project, a national lobbying group that works to change marijuana laws across the country and has ties to the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana political committee.

Regardless, as Vox put it on Wednesday, "the ballot measures mean 2016 could be the biggest year for marijuana reform yet." Where we go from here remains to be seen. 

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