Most California voters support legalizing recreational marijuana, poll finds

Six years after a similar initiative was rejected, a clear majority of California voters supports a measure on the November ballot that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in their state, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Proposition 64, which would legalize personal use, is backed by 58% of California voters, and that favorable view extends across most lines of age, race, income and gender, according to the survey.

The ballot measure backed by former Facebook President Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would allow Californians ages 21 or older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes, and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants. The measure would also impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug.

Only 34% of the 1,879 respondents to the survey said they would vote against the ballot measure if the election were held today and 8% said they had no answer to the question.

The survey results show a shift in public views since the last legalization measure, Proposition 19, was rejected in 2010 by 53.5% of voters.

“It’s very clear that Californians’ attitudes have changed dramatically on this issue over the last several years,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“The opposition is going to have to identify a fairly sizable source of campaign funding if this initiative is to be close,” he added.

Some of the change appears to have come from the ability of Californians to watch what has happened in other states that legalized recreational pot use: Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, said Jon Cohen, an executive for SurveyMonkey, the firm that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

“Some of the calamitous predictions of legalization opponents haven’t come to pass” in other states, Cohen said. 

The new measure enjoys its strongest support (67%) among voters ages 18 to 24, while 50% those ages 65 and older favor the initiative, the lowest level of support by age.

Experts said that although large numbers of baby boomers used marijuana in the past, it was less widely considered socially acceptable in their youth than it is today.

“The younger you are the more supportive you are,” said Doug Herman, a Los Angeles Democratic consultant.

The initiative is backed by a majority of whites, Latinos and blacks. Only 47% of Asian Americans said they support the measure, according to the poll.

Legalizing cannabis is favored by 62% of men and 55% of women, the poll found. While 63% of those with incomes of less than $50,000 a year support the measure, it has backing from 57% of those who make $100,000 or more a year.

The biggest division on the issue comes in political party affiliation. The initiative is supported by 68% of Democrats and opposed by 56% of Republicans, the poll shows.

Democrat Rodrigo Rojas, 64, of Northridge said creating a system to tax and regulate marijuana would work better than prohibition.

“It’s more expenses for taxpayers to keep people in jail for no reason. It’s a minor issue,” he said. “The marijuana is in wide use already and it’s better for us to collect some taxes.”

Carol Hall Gilmore, 57, said the initiative would “keep the police from wasting their time” so they can focus on more serious crime.

Criminalizing possession of marijuana “hurts a lot of young people who want to try it and are in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Gilmore, a Burlingame resident who works as a guest services representative for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

Opponents of the initiative include Jack Holden, a 63-year-old building official for Imperial Beach.

“It’s just another means to not be a productive part of society,” Holden said. “If you are stoned all the time, how can you be productive?”

Holden also worried the measure could make driving more dangerous.

“We have drunk drivers and now we’re going to have stoned drivers even more,” he said.

Pamela Sykes-Henry, 63, of Riverside said marijuana should not be a problem if used in moderation, although she does not use it. She said she believes a lot of politicians have used marijuana, so it is hypocritical to punish young people for its use.

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“If they have cocaine or something like that, that’s different,” she said. “But I totally disagree with putting people in jail for marijuana. Jail is never the answer.”

The survey also asked whether those who responded currently use marijuana. Of a broader sample of voters, 86% said they do not currently use cannabis and 11% said they did. Cohen said that is in the ballpark with national statistics on the number of people who have used marijuana in the last 30 days.

Survey administrators said the number probably would have been higher if the question had been rephrased as “Have you ever used marijuana?”

Asked which elections or initiatives make them the most enthusiastic about voting this year, 56% of respondents said the presidential election, 20% said a gun control initiative and only 16% said marijuana legalization.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll questioned 1,879 registered voters Sept. 1-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Follow @mcgreevy99 on Twitter

 

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