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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

Louisianians Favor Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds

A poll released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana found a slim majority favoring marijuana legalization. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for taxed and regulated marijuana legalization at 53% and support for medical marijuana at 65%.

The poll also found little support for the state's current harsh marijuana laws, some of the most draconian in the nation. Under current Louisiana law, someone convicted of a marijuana offense can be sentenced to life without parole if he has a prior felony and prison terms can be up to 20 years for repeat marijuana possession offenders.

But only 22% of respondents favored life without parole for felons busted for pot, and only 32% favored the long prison sentences for simple possession, even for repeat offenders. Yet oddly enough, only 47% supported making a six month jail sentence and a fine the maximum sentence for repeat possession offenders.

"People understand that criminalizing marijuana has wasted public funds, has not made anyone safer, and that marijuana is not the danger it was thought to be," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Despite last session's failure to pass a bill to reform marijuana sentencing (House Bill 103), marijuana law reform is coming to Louisiana. Voters in this state are in agreement with the rest of America that marijuana should be taxed and regulated," Esman said.

HB 103 would have reduced sentences for simple marijuana possession from 20 years in prison to two years for a third offense conviction, and no more than five years for a subsequent offense. It was watered down in the House before going to the Senate, where it was killed.

"This new poll also shows that a majority of Louisiana voters think it's time to change the state's outdated and overly harsh marijuana sentencing laws," said Esman. "The ACLU stands with the 59% of Louisianans who oppose long prison sentences, and 64% who oppose a sentence of life without parole for a marijuana offense."

LA
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%.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in DC

District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) filed a marijuana decriminalization bill for the nation's capital Wednesday. Wells is chairman of the council's Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot, with the maximum penalty being a $100 fine. Minors would have to complete a drug awareness program in addition to the fine, with failure to do so resulting in a $200 fine and court-ordered community service.

Pressure is mounting for marijuana law reform in the District. If the council doesn't act, DC-based activists are contemplating an initiative next year. Reform supporters have been emboldened by a recent Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. That same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release last month of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

"The introduction of this legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells is a positive step toward putting an end to marijuana possession arrests that cause irreversible harm to people's lives, disproportionately impact communities of color, and waste public resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, Councilmembers should consider following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington by legally regulating marijuana," said Smith.

"The District's current policy of arresting and prosecuting thousands of adults for marijuana possession each year is doing far more harm than good," said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project. "Nobody should face life-altering criminal penalties simply for possessing a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and law enforcement officials' time and attention would be better spent addressing serious crimes. It is time to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy in our nation's capital, and that is what Councilman Wells has proposed," Fox said.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," said Smith. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that possession of any drug in DC should not be criminalized," said Smith.

Washington, DC
United States

New Jerseyans Ready to Decriminalize Marijuana, Poll Finds

As New Jersey legislators consider a marijuana decriminalization bill, a new poll suggests strong public support for such a move -- and more. The poll of likely voters conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Drug Policy Alliance found that 61% favored decriminalization and nearly as many (59%) agreed with taxing, regulating, and legalizing marijuana.

"New Jersey voters are ready for aggressive and immediate change of state marijuana laws, with strong majorities supporting decriminalizing up to two ounces of marijuana," said Daniel Gotoff, a partner at Lake Research. "Support for this reform is remarkably broad, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, as well as voters from every major region in the state."

The poll comes as the legislature is considering Senate Bill 1977, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 50 grams (slightly less than two ounces) of marijuana and make possession a civil violation carrying a fine similar to a traffic ticket. The bill sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The release of the poll could be designed to prod the legislature to act on marijuana reform. SB 1977 was filed more than a year ago and still has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. Another measure, Assembly Bill 1465, which would decriminalize up to 15 grams, actually passed the Assembly last June, only to languish in the Senate Judiciary Committee ever since.

Under current New Jersey law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Conviction on a pot possession charges also creates a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver's license.

Marijuana possession prosecutions also disproportionately target the Garden State's black population. African-Americans are arrested for pot possession at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

"More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010 at a cost of more than $125 million dollars," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "New Jerseyans understand that current penalties for marijuana are unfair and wasteful. These laws should be changed now. "

If legislators heed the popular will and pass the decriminalization bill, New Jersey will join 15 other states that have decriminalized pot possession in amounts ranging from half an ounce to three ounces.

Trenton, NJ
United States

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