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Two-Thirds of Californians Say Legalize Marijuana

Will California wait until 2016 to vote on legalizing marijuana? A poll released Thursday strongly suggests voters in the Golden State are ready to legalize it right now.

Should marijuana be legal? California says "yes."
The new Tulchin Research poll has support for legalizing marijuana at just under two-thirds (65%), with only 32% opposed. It shows majority support for legalization among every demographic except one -- Republican Party members. Even among Republicans, support for legalization (47%) trailed opposition (50%) by only three points.

And this was not a generic legalization question. The poll asked: "There may be a measure on the ballot in the future to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults. It would still be illegal for minors, there would be penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and it could only be sold in state regulated stores. The measure would tax marijuana and generate an estimated one billion dollars a year to fund schools, public safety and other essential services and there would be annual audits to ensure the money is spent as intended. Based on this, would you support or oppose this proposal?"

Geographically, support was strongest in the Bay Area (73%), followed by San Diego (67%), Los Angeles County and the Central Valley at 65%, Sacramento/North (63%), the Los Angeles Area (59%), and the Inland Empire (58%).

Among racial groups, support was strongest among blacks (74%), followed by whites (69%) and Asians (68%), with Hispanics lagging at 53%. Both men (66%) and women (65%) strongly supported legalization. So did all age groups, with the lowest level of support being 54% among 40-49-year-olds.

"In sum, voters strongly support a marijuana legalization and regulation measure for adults that includes penalties for DUI and collects revenues to fund public services," Tulchin said. "Furthermore, such a reform is supported by nearly all demographic subgroups across the state."

The poll comes as one 2014 marijuana legalization initiative is in the signature-gathering phase and a second is awaiting approval of title and ballot summary at the state attorney general's office. The conventional wisdom among deep-pocketed drug reformers is that California should wait until 2016, when a presidential election year generates higher voter turnout, which in turn favors liberal voting groups, but poll numbers like these are going to increase the pressure to get something done next year.

The poll was conducted on behalf of the ACLU of California, which also announced that it is putting together a high-octane panel to study marijuana legalization for the next two years, implicitly precluding a 2014 effort.

The Tulchin Research poll was conducted doing live landline and cell phone interviews with 1,200 November 2016 voters between September 26 and October 6. The margin of error is +/-3.1%.

CA
United States

Jerry Brown Vetoes California "Defelonization" Bill [FEATURE]

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Saturday vetoed a bill that would have allowed prosecutors or judges to charge simple drug possession as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill would have made drug possession a "wobbler," meaning it could be charged either way, based on judicial or prosecutorial discretion.

overcrowded California prison (supremecourtus.gov)
Some 10,000 people are convicted of drug possession felonies each year in California, and experts estimated that, under the bill, 15% to 30% of them would have been charged instead with misdemeanors. The exact number is unknown because the bill would have left those decisions up to prosecutors and judges. But in any case, the bill would have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal justice system savings, which would have provided local governments with more flexibility to invest in drug treatment and mental health services and focus law enforcement resources on more serious offenses, along with lightening up on some of the people caught up in the criminal justice system.

The bill, Senate Bill 649, was sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and passed the legislature with bipartisan support, but was opposed by law enforcement and some prosecutors. Leno and supporters had argued that the bill would save the state money on incarceration and related costs.

The bill was premature, given that a broader criminal justice system reform is in the works, Brown said in a veto message. "We are going to examine in detail California's criminal justice system, including the sentencing structure," he said. "We will do so with the full participation of all the necessary parties, including law enforcement, local government, courts, and treatment providers. That would be the appropriate time to evaluate our existing drug laws."

Even after the state's vaunted prison realignment, California prisons remain overcrowded, and the more than 4,100 people currently imprisoned on simple drug possession charges only add to that burden. The cost of imprisoning them comes to $207 million a year.

Under current California law, which will now stay in place, simple possession of drugs such as cocaine, meth, and heroin is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. Leno's bill left that maximum sentence in place, but would have given either judges or prosecutors the discretion to punish possession as a misdemeanor, with a year in jail as a maximum sentence. Similarly, under the Leno bill, judges or prosecutors could have diverted drug users to treatment or community programs in a bid to reduce recidivism.

Charging drug possessors with misdemeanors instead of felonies would also have created criminal justice system savings with each lower-level prosecution. That's because felony charges require a preliminary hearing, while misdemeanor charges do not.

But law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California District Attorneys Association all opposed the bill, labeling it a threat to public safety. They argued that the bill would reduce incentives for drug possessors to voluntarily seek drug treatment because they would only face jail time, and the jails are so full -- thanks to prison realignment -- that people sentenced to jail time do only a tiny fraction of that time.

Brown could have let the bill become law without his signature, Leno noted in an interview with the Chronicle earlier this month, and pronounced himself "surprised" at the veto.

"It's quite surprising that the governor would veto a modest attempt at sentencing reform in light of our prison overcrowding crisis," Leno said Saturday.

Bill supporters, including the ACLU of California and the Drug Policy Alliance lambasted Brown's decision to veto the bill.

Jerry Brown
"By vetoing SB 649, Gov. Brown has thwarted the will of the voters and their elected representatives by rejecting a modest reform that would have helped end mass incarceration in this state," said Kim Horiuchi, criminal justice and drug policy attorney for the ACLU of California.

"California voters and the legislature recognize the urgent need to reevaluate our sentencing laws and enact smart reforms, especially for low level, non-violent drug crimes," Horiuchi continued. "Doing so will allow California to reduce its reliance on incarceration and free up limited resources for the sorts of community-based treatment, education and job training programs proven to reduce crime and create safe and healthy communities. Despite this, Gov. Brown remains inexplicably opposed to meaningful sentencing reform."

"The governor let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The vast majority of voters agree with the experts -- locking up drug users is stupid, unproductive, cruel and expensive."

Despite the opposition of the law enforcement establishment, California public opinion wants to see sentencing reform. A 2012 Tulchin poll found that 75% of Californians preferred prevention and treatment as an alternative to jail for nonviolent offenders and 62% agreed that possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be a misdemeanor.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia already have such laws, and an effort to pass similar legislation is gearing up in Washington state. But in Sacramento, Gov. Brown was listening to the cops instead of the people.

"Our system is broken," said DPA's Lyman. "Felony sentences don't reduce drug use and don't persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release -- three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities."

Sacramento, CA
United States

Poll Finds Texans Ready to Legalize Marijuana

Voters in Texas are among the latest to hop on board the marijuana legalization bandwagon, according to a poll released this week. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for marijuana legalization at 58%, support for medical marijuana at 58%, and support for decriminalizing small-time possession at 61%.

The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The survey of 860 randomly selected Texas voters was conducted September 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%.

"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, a part-time Austin resident. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market."

The poll's legalization question -- "Would you support or oppose changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older?" -- was the only question that allowed respondents to qualify their support as "strongly support" or "somewhat support." Some 41% strongly supported legalization, with another 17% somewhat supporting it.

Unusually, support for legalization was stronger among women (59%) than among men (56%). Also going against the grain, support was stronger among blacks (61%) and Latinos (60%) than Anglos (56%). In most polls across the country, men and whites are more likely to support legalization than women, blacks, or Latinos.

By political affiliation, legalization won strong majority support among Democrats (70%) and independents (57%), while even nearly half of Republicans (48%) also favored it. Legalization also won majority support across all age groups, with even those 65 and older coming in at 52%.

The poll also found that 61% of state voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30% said they were opposed to that. Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined up to $2,000.

"Law enforcement officials' time would be better spent addressing violent crimes instead of adults simply possessing marijuana," Kampia said. "No adult should face potentially life-altering criminal penalties for using a product that is significantly less harmful than alcohol."

Most Texas voters (58%) support changing state law to allow seriously and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Just 31% said they are opposed.

"There is ample research demonstrating the medical benefits of marijuana in the treatment of several debilitating conditions," Kampia said. "People suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis should not face the threat of arrest for using medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help ease their suffering."

TX
United States

Polls Find Maryland, Florida Ready for Marijuana Reform

Polls from two more states this week show an increasing acceptance of the need to reform marijuana laws. In a Florida poll, Sunshine State voters said they were ready to back medical marijuana, while in a Maryland poll, Old Line State voters said they were ready to decriminalize and/or legalize the weed.

Voters in the two states are joining a growing cavalcade of marijuana reform supporters in state polls, some of them in places where the support seemed unlikely. Just in the month of September, different polls showed majority support for marijuana legalization in Louisiana, majority support for decriminalization and a near majority (47%) for legalization in Michigan, majority support for decriminalization and medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and majority support for legalization in California.

In Florida, where the Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative signature-gathering campaign is underway, a Public Policy Polling survey found support for a medical marijuana ballot measure at 62%, with only 26% opposed and 12% undecided.

That poll found strong support for medical marijuana among Democrats (68%) and independents (74%). And while there wasn't majority support among Republicans, more Republicans supported medical marijuana (46%) than opposed it (41%).

In Maryland, a Public Policy Polling survey found nearly three-quarters (72%) support for medical marijuana, more than two-thirds (68%) for decriminalization, and a slight majority (53%) for legalization. (The legalization question asked: "Would you support or oppose changing Maryland law to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and over, and regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol?")

The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project and the ACLU of Maryland, both of which have been working with the state legislature in Annapolis to loosen pot penalties. This year, the legislature approved a medical marijuana program, but rejected efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

"Most Maryland voters recognize that marijuana prohibition has failed and believe it is time to adopt a more sensible approach," said Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for MPP. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol we can take marijuana sales out of the underground market and put them behind the counters of legitimate, tax-paying businesses. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time to treat it that way."

"Our current marijuana prohibition policies are grossly ineffective," said Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland. "It's time to take a commonsense approach to public safety and criminal justice. We should not be wasting resources arresting people simply for possessing marijuana. Enforcement of these misguided marijuana laws is having a disproportionate and detrimental impact on communities of color. A majority of voters agree it is time for a change."

Elected officials are supposed to lead, but when it comes to marijuana law reform, it is becoming increasingly clear that the public is going to have to lead the elected officials by their noses.

Majority Favor Marijuana Legalization in California, Poll Finds

Support for marijuana legalization is above 50% among Californians, and even higher among likely voters, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll released Thursday. While other pollsters have reported majority support for legalization in the past, especially in the run-up to the failed 2010 Proposition 19 effort, Thursday's poll marks the first time PPIC has recorded majority support for legalization.

PPIC polling in September 2011 had support for legalization at 46%, and that figure dropped to 45% in a March 2012 PPIC poll. Now, the numbers have flipped.

The poll found support for marijuana legalization at 52% among all respondents and 60% among likely voters. Conversely, 45% of all respondents and 38% of likely voters opposed legalization, with undecideds accounting for only 2% to 3% of respondents.

Democrats (64%), independents (60%), and men (57%) are more likely than Republicans (45%) and women (47%) to favor legalization. About six in 10 whites (63%) and blacks (61%) are in favor, Asians are divided (48% legal, 45% not legal), and about six in 10 Latinos are opposed (62%). About half across age groups think marijuana use should be legal.

The question asked was "In general, do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?"

The question was asked of 1,703 Californians, including 1,429 registered voters, between September 10 and 17. Among those likely voters responding, 46% were Democrats, 31% Republicans, and 17% independents. That generally follows current voter registration statistics. The racial makeup of likely voters was 61% white, 15% Latino, 12% Asian and 8% black. The poll has a margin of error of between 3.7% and 4.5% depending on the subgroup polled.

The poll results are likely to encourage efforts by California activists to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot, even though many major drug reform players have cautioned that the state should wait for the higher voter turnout expected in the 2016 presidential election year. A divided activist community threw up several initiative proposals in 2012, but none of them managed to make the ballot.

One measure, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014, has already been cleared for circulation this year, and at least one more is in the works. Organizers face a daunting task, however; they need to gather more than half a million registered voter signatures, a process that typically requires at least a million-dollar investment. Whether the big money can be convinced that 2014 is both doable and winnable remains to be seen.

The poll also found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

CA
United States

Oklahomans Ready for Marijuana Law Reform, Poll Finds

Oklahoma NORML Friday released survey results from a Sooner Poll showing strong support for medical marijuana and majority support for marijuana decriminalization. The poll had support for medical marijuana at 71% and support for decriminalization at 57%. The poll did not ask about legalization.

The poll of registered voters was conducted between August 28 and September 9. The margin of error is +/- 4.9%.

If someone is going to be arrested for a marijuana offense, nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they should be treated instead of jailed.

Under current Oklahoma law, possession of any amount can earn one up to a year in jail for a first offense and from two to 10 years for a second offense. Marijuana sales -- of any amount -- can earn a sentence of up to life in prison.

The state's largest cities were the most in favor of fixing the state's pot laws. In metro Oklahoma City and Tulsa, support for medical marijuana was higher than 75%, and support for decriminalization was at 67% in Tulsa and at 63% in Oklahoma City.

Even Oklahoma's notoriously conservative Republicans are ready for change. Support for decriminalization came from 53% of Republicans interviewed, lower than the 60% of Democrats and 65% of independents, but still a majority.

"I do hope that the polling results will help legislators feel more comfortable supporting marijuana reform," Oklahoma NORML leader Norma Sapp told the Oklahoma Observer. "I always encourage people to contact the legislators. I think a state wide lobby day will be called when the need comes."

Senator Constance Johnston (D-Oklahoma City), who has filed medical marijuana bills for several years now without managing to get a hearing, told the Observer the poll echoed what she had been hearing from constituents.

"I like the results. This is very telling. It confirms what we're being told across the state," Johnston said, adding that they could help ease legislators' worried minds. "The results make you wonder what these elected officials are afraid of," she said.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Majority Supports Marijuana Reform in Michigan

A poll released Friday finds a majority of Michiganders in favor of reforming the state's marijuana laws, and nearly half in favor of legalizing and regulating the herb. The poll, conducted by pollsters Epic-MRA for Michigan NORML, comes as the state's activists attempt to lay the groundwork for moving a decriminalization bill in the legislature or a possible legalization initiative.

Crosstabs for the poll are not yet available. Epic-MRA told the Chronicle Monday that while Michigan NORML had made some poll results available to the media, it had not yet given the pollster permission to post full results. The poll surveyed 600 likely voters last week and has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

The poll found near majority support (47%) for legalizing marijuana by taxing and regulating it like alcohol, with another 16% saying the favored decriminalization and 4% saying they wanted all criminal penalties for marijuana offenses repealed. Taken together, that's more than two-thirds (67%) of Michiganders in favor of relaxing the pot laws. Only one out of four respondents (26%) favored the pot prohibition status quo.

The results show a continuing shift in public sentiment toward legalizing the drug, said Bernie Porn, president of Epic-MRA.

"I think that people are changing their opinions about marijuana," Porn said. "There is a receptivity to legalization and the realization that you don't need to have law enforcement spending the kind of time that they devote to the crimes that people are convicted of because of current marijuana laws," he said.

Neil Yashinsky, executive director of Michigan NORML's Oakland County chapter, told the Detroit Free Press he was encouraged by the survey results.

"Eventually, the politicians will catch up with the people. They will reflect the values of their constituents" and pass a decriminalization effort, he said.

If they don't, there is always the initiative process. Voters in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Ypsilanti last November approved decriminalization or deprioritization initiatives. Similar local initiatives will be on the ballot this year in Ferndale and Lansing.

MI
United States

Sen. McCain: "Maybe We Should Legalize" Marijuana

At a town hall meeting in Tucson Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R) signaled that he could be receptive to legalizing marijuana. His comments came just a week after the Obama administration said it would not interfere with taxed and regulated marijuana distribution in Colorado and Washington, whose voters legalized it last November.

"Maybe we should legalize," McCain said, according to a tweet from Arizona Star columnist Tim Steller. "We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people."

The will of the people in Arizona certainly appears to be in favor of marijuana law reform. A May Behavior Research Center poll found that 56% favored legalization "of small amounts for personal use," with only 37% opposed. While strong majorities of independents (72%) and Democrats (61%) favored decriminalization, so did a sizeable minority (41%) of McCain's fellow Republicans.

That same poll also showed majority support for gay marriage, leading the Behavior Research Center to comment on the vagaries of shifting public opinion.

"It is perhaps ironic that as support for same-sex marriage and defelonization of marijuana have long been albatrosses which conservative candidates could hang around the necks of some of their moderate or liberal challengers, it now appears that hard opposition to gay marriage and perhaps even to marijuana liberalization could become issues moderates and liberals can use against their conservative opponents," the polling firm said.

And plans are afoot to put the issue before voters next year. Activists organized as Safer Arizona in June filed a constitutional amendment initiative with the secretary of state's office. Signature-gathering is underway, and organizers must come up with 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

A smart politician who wants to get reelected listens to the will of the people. Whatever one thinks of John McCain's views on various issues, the senator is no dummy.

Tucson, AZ
United States

Legalize/Decriminalize Marijuana, Canadians Say

The Canadian public strongly supports reforming the country's marijuana laws, according to a new Forum Research poll. The survey found that 69% either want to see marijuana legalized, taxed, and regulated or see the possession of small amounts decriminalized.

The poll comes just weeks after Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau called for legalization, bringing new life to the long-running debate on pot policy north of the border. It also comes just a week after Canadian police chiefs called for decriminalization, although they didn't want to use that word, instead preferring to say they wanted a "ticketing option."

Support for legalization was slightly higher (36%) than for decriminalization (34%), but the combined support for pot law reform was far ahead of support for the status quo (15%) or increasing marijuana penalties (13%). Only 3% were undecided.

Among political parties, support was strongest among self-described Liberals (76%), followed by New Democrats (72%), and even 61% of Conservatives. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has positioned itself as the party of cracking down on marijuana, but the ministers might want to check in with their base.

The poll also asked respondents whether Trudeau's recent admission that he had smoked pot while a Member of Parliament would affect their vote. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it did not matter, while one in five (21%) said they would be less likely to vote for him. Conversely, 14% said they would be more likely to vote for him.

"Justin Trudeau is ahead of the zeitgeist on this issue, and the government's disapproval of his position is a strength he can play to in the coming months. Decriminalization or legalization has majority support right across the country, even among Conservative voters, and there appears to be little downside to this issue for him," said Forum Research President Dr. Lorne Bozinoff.

Canada

Poll Finds Few Think We're Winning War on Drugs

Four decades after President Richard Nixon ushered in the modern war on drugs, fewer than one out of 20 Americans think it is being won, according to a new poll. A Rasmussen Reports poll released on Sunday found that only 4% of respondents believe that the US is "winning" the war on drugs. Some 82% said it is "losing."

"Americans continue to overwhelmingly believe that the so-called war on drugs is failing, but they are more divided on how much the United States should be spending on it," Rasmussen concluded.

While agreement that the drug war is a failure is at near consensus levels, the Rasmussen poll also revealed a public deeply divided over what to do about it. More than half (55%) think there are too many people in prison, and nearly as many (51%) agree with Attorney General Holder's call to reduce the prisoner load by reducing reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing. At the same time, 54% said illegal drug use is primarily a criminal justice problem, not a public health problem.

The poll also showed Americans split nearly evenly on marijuana legalization, with 44% approving of it and 42% disapproving. The numbers supporting legalization are lower than most recent polls, where in the past year support has consistently climbed above 50%, but still show more Americans supporting legalization than opposing it.

The survey was conducted Aug.12-13, and involved interviews with 1,000 American adults, and has a margin-of-error of plus/minus 3.1%.

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