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Younger voters overwhelmingly favor marijuana measure, which is likely to pass, poll finds

California appears poised to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, with a strong majority favoring Proposition 64 ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

A new statewide poll shows 58% of likely voters support Proposition 64 and 37% oppose it. The number who said they don’t know how they will vote dropped from 8% last month to 4% in the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released this week.

Next week’s decision comes six years after a similar initiative was rejected by 53.5% of California’s voters.

“The electorate has gotten younger and more demographically diverse,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “The change over the last six years has been more cultural than political. Society feels differently about marijuana legalization now than it did then.”

The initiative enjoys its strongest support, at 74%, among likely voters ages 18 to 29, while only 46% of voters over age 64 back the idea, according to the poll, which was conducted Oct. 22-30.

Pot users were much more likely to say they favor Proposition 64 — 72% did so. The survey found 43% have used marijuana for recreational purposes and 54% said they had not. Of the group who hasn’t used marijuana, support was split, 46% in favor and 48% against the measure.

Of those who have used it, 30% said they have done so in the last year. Among those who have not, just 2% said they are much more likely to use it if Proposition 64 passes, 5% said they are somewhat more likely to use it, and 89% said they are no more likely to smoke pot if it is legalized.

California is one of five states considering legalization measures on Nov. 8 and is seen as a battleground state for the national movement to relax drug laws.

Proposition 64 would allow the growing, transporting and retail selling of marijuana to individuals, who will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of pot.

The measure, supported by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Facebook President Sean Parker, also allows Californians to grow up to six marijuana plants. Buying marijuana at state-licensed shops would come with a 15% excise tax.

The measure is supported “strongly” by 47% of likely voters and is supported, but “not so strongly,” by 11%.

The poll found support a little softer among Latino voters, 43% of whom “strongly” support the initiative and 13% “not so strongly.”

Why? For many voters it is a question of finances.

Among respondents who support the initiative, 23% of all voters and 30% of Latinos said they do so because legalizing marijuana “would generate a billion dollars in tax revenue for California, which would go towards after school programs and job training initiatives.”

That opportunity was the first reason offered by Barkev Tatevosian, a 28-year-old administrative analyst from Los Angeles who plans to vote for Proposition 64 but does not use marijuana.

“The revenues are already being seen, but they are going into the wrong hands,” Tatevosian said. “People who want to get marijuana are already getting it, they are just getting it from the wrong hands.”

The poll found 22% support the measure because they believe the criminal justice system is broken and legalizing pot would allow more of a focus on violent criminals.

Eighteen percent said they support Proposition 64 to take the marijuana market out of the hands of the drug cartels and allow government regulation.

For 13%, pot should be legal because “using it is a personal choice, not something the government should regulate.”

And 10% of supporters say marijuana should be legal because it is less dangerous than alcohol.

That argument is partly why Heather Leikin, a realtor from Culver City, supports Proposition 64.

The ballot box guide to California's propositions »

“I think that marijuana is better than alcohol as far as safety goes, as far as health goes,” said Leikin, 43. “I don’t see people killing each other on marijuana or overdosing on marijuana.”

Among all of those who oppose the measure, the biggest concern, cited by 23% of opponents, is that it is a drug whose use often leads to abusing other narcotics.

That issue is why Raul Duarte, a bus driver from Anaheim, plans to vote “No.”

“I think it’s a gateway drug for other, harder drugs, and we shouldn’t make it accessible to all the youngsters,” said Duarte, 29.

Other concerns were that the measure would suggest to children it’s OK to do drugs or that it could lead to stoned driving and deaths on the road

“Colorado is dealing with some pretty extreme issues that I don’t think we need to deal with, like impaired driving,” said Barbara Mayers, a retired office manager from Poway, 79.

The survey of 1,500 registered voters was conducted for USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and American Viewpoint. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2.3 percentage points.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

@mcgreevy99

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