California Voters Back Pot Legalization, But Support is Shaky

California voters, by a modest margin, think they should be allowed to grow and consume marijuana, according to a new poll that also found more than 1 in 3 voters had tried pot and more than 1 in 10 had lit up in the past year.

The Los Angeles Times/USC poll found that voters back the marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot, 49% to 41%, with 10% uncertain about it. But support for the initiative is unstable, with one-third of the supporters saying they favor it only “somewhat.”

“The good news for proponents is that they are starting off with a decent lead. The good news for the opposition is that initiatives that start off at less than 50% in the polls usually have a hard time,” said Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

The poll also points to a demographic group that is likely to play a key role — women, particularly those who are married. Men favor legalization, but women are split. Among married women, 49% reject the measure while 40% are in favor of the initiative.

Denise Silva, a 55-year-old court clerk from Pleasanton, in Alameda County, said she is struggling with the issue. “I sway from day to day,” she said. A mother of two grown children, she opposes drug use for moral reasons but knows people who have smoked for four decades with no apparent harm.

“It’s still going to continue to be sold, so since it is, might’s well let the government get their piece of the pie,” she said. Both sides are likely to target mothers, Schnur said. The measure’s backers, for example, could argue that legalization would bring more tax money for schools, while opponents could insist that it would put children at risk.

The poll found voters closely divided on those arguments.

The measure’s supporters say marijuana taxes could raise more than a billion dollars in revenue; opponents dispute that. Among voters, 42% believe that estimate and 38% think it is wildly exaggerated. The November initiative authorizes cities and counties, but not the state, to legalize and tax sales.

In Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the Green Rush with more than 600 medical marijuana dispensaries, voters are most inclined to see pot taxes as a way to plug holes in local and state budgets.

Voters were also split over whether legalized marijuana would worsen social problems, such as increasing crime and triggering higher marijuana use among teenagers. Those concerns appear to have much more potency with voters than the debate over tax revenues. Among those who oppose the initiative, 83% think it would add to the state’s social woes; 55% of married women also believe that.

Raul Martinez, a Democrat from Woodland, outside of Sacramento, said he smoked pot as a teenager. He believes the measure would end up being expensive for local governments. “It’s going to turn around and cost them more money because more crime is going to come from it,” the 47-year-old father said.

The survey of 1,506 registered voters was conducted between May 19 and 26 for The Times and the University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts and Sciences by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for the overall sample and slightly larger for smaller breakdowns.

Attitudes toward legalization diverge sharply by age, with support much higher among younger voters. A 52% majority of voters 65 and older oppose legalization. Among voters between 45 and 64, 49% support it. But among those 30 to 44, 53% are in favor, and that rises to 61% among those 18 to 29.

Chris Donnelly, a 25-year-old substitute teacher from San Diego, has never touched pot but strongly favors the initiative and believes it could support schools. “It wouldn’t bother me one bit if marijuana were legal,” the unaffiliated voter said. “I don’t think it’s any more harmful than alcohol.”

The poll also offers an unusually detailed look at who is using marijuana in California.

Among those surveyed, 37% of voters said they had tried pot — a figure roughly consistent with federal surveys of drug use — and that group strongly supports the initiative. The 11% who had used marijuana in the last year favored legalization by a landslide, 82%.

By contrast, the 57% of voters who said they have never used marijuana oppose the initiative.

Though certain types of voters are more likely to light up, marijuana use cuts across all demographic slices, reaching beyond the cliches of skateboarders and aging hippies.

A matchup in the governor’s race between Democrat Jerry Brown, who governed the state in the 1970s, and Republican Meg Whitman, the former EBay executive, clearly illustrates this. Voters who have tried marijuana make up 45% of Brown’s supporters, and 37% of Whitman’s. But both candidates oppose legalization.

Among Democrats and voters who decline to state a party affiliation, 12% had used marijuana in the last year, as had 7% of Republicans. About a quarter of the voters in each slice of the state’s electorate said they experimented with the drug in the past, but not in the last year.

One of the biggest differences is between men and women. Among male voters, 45% said they had used marijuana, 14% in the past year. Among female voters, 29% said they had tried it, but just 8% in the past year.

The heaviest use of marijuana skipped a generation. The youngest voters, between 18 and 29, reported the highest percentage of marijuana use in the past year, followed by voters between 45 and 64, who could be their parents or even grandparents. Most of those voters came of age in the marijuana-hazed Vietnam War era.

The chance that a California voter has used marijuana is higher for college graduates than high school graduates and rises with income. Use is highest among single voters and lowest among married ones. Voters north of the Bay Area, home to the weed-raising Emerald Triangle, are most likely to have used marijuana, while voters in the Central Valley are least likely.

– Article from Los Angeles Times on May 31, 2010.



  1. undrgrndgirl on

    you did a much better job of stating the problems with the bill than i ever could…

  2. undrgrndgirl on

    but now questioning some of the language in the bill and what it will mean and how it will be used if passed…there is some VERY BAD language in this bill (though i know it is aimed at appeasing the pta and *parents*)…section 3.c.iv.: “smoking cannabis in any space while minors are present” is WAY too vague…what does “in any space while minors are present” MEAN? what does this mean for parents who use in their own homes? even if those children are asleep in another room? people consume alcohol and tobacco with minors present, so wtf?…cannabis users are used to hiding, but why is it being enshrined into this potential LAW? interpreted in a harsh light this provision could call down the wrath of law enforcement on families in a way we’ve never seen before (and not unlike the awful occurrence in missouri recently)…i’m beginning to think the law of unintended consequences of this bill are too great and am contemplating voting NO in november – i understand there is a better bill in the works for 2012…

  3. Anonymous on

    This will only be won if when the police say that “costs will rise due to harms of cannabis just like we see huge costs of alcohol and tobacco” is challenged in the media by pointing out that these two drugs have far more health and social costs than cannabis. On top of that, it needs to be spelt out that there are huge costs currently in policing and penalizing a drug that is proven by science to be safer than these two legal drugs.
    That would swing enough votes, but it needs to come out in a debate because we see too often the police get away with these erroneous claims.

  4. David762 on

    When one drills down into the Legalization measure details, it looks more like most of the MJ referendum was orchestrated by Prohibition proponents rather than populists trying to liberalize California statutes. I am reminded of that old retort “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”, because it appears that the referendum is designed to placate the State and Locality anti-marijuana LE Organizations, regressive Community governments across the State, and to the benefit of Criminal Law lawyers. The only other groups that benefit are established MMJ outlets, and the Local / State taxing authorities — the re-establishment of individual rights stripped away by Prohibition 2.0, not so much.

    I would like to remind readers that this Referendum does NOT make MJ “legal like alcohol”. With alcohol, I can create up to 600 Gallons of Beer or Wine in my home, indoor or outdoor, per year without taxation or other restrictive government intervention. I have seen no local zoning restrictions on my home brewery. My family unit, including minors, is not threatened with dissolution by State agencies with the operation of a private personal use brewery. And allowing my family unit minors to consume beer or wine in the privacy of my home isn’t against the law, yet.

    I can well understand that people would like to move beyond the absurd limitations of MMJ restrictions, especially with the very granular hopscotch pattern of repressive Local regulations. Any movement toward re-legalization of MJ is to be encouraged, if for no other reason than the re-establishment of personal freedom. But at what cost in terms of liberty? If liberalization can be shown to progress, even if it is “two steps forward, one step backward”, it may be considered to be “a good thing”. Polling data regarding support of this Referendum illustrates that people are unconvinced of that progress, and I doubt that this is merely a matter of Public Relations — this measure has problems …

  5. David Malmo-Levine on

    Eight reasons I oppose the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 Initiative:

    Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 11:40am

    A) New Criminal Penalties
    To consume marijuana in front of a minor or for a 21 year old to pass a joint to his 20 year old friend would carry new penalties of up to $1,000 fine or six months in county jail. This initiative also creates 2 new felonies for providing marijuana to minors with three to seven year minimum state prison sentences.
    This initiative would not allow marijuana smoking in any “space” where minors are present. There are no similar restrictions that ban parents from smoking tobacco in the presence of their own children. This could mean that parents could be legally unable to smoke marijuana since this initiative also bans marijuana smoking in public.
    This initiative would have no effect on people previously convicted of marijuana offences that would no longer be illegal under this initiative will they NOT be released from prison or receive a pardon.
    I cannot support this initiative taxing marijuana as long as people are still in and will continue to be sent to prisons for growing and possessing marijuana.

    B) Affect on current medical marijuana laws under Proposition 215
    This initiative would allow for the taxing of medical marijuana.
    This initiative would also allow local governments to control & regulate medical marijuana grows. So many unbelievable conditions have already been proposed by local authorities including: no outdoor growing, limit the size of your garden no matter what your Doctor says, providing names of people living on the property of medical grows and requiring the names of medical marijuana patients to be grown for be submitted to the local authorities.
    Medical marijuana patients would no longer be able to medicate in public. Since this initiative states “consumption in public or in a public place” would not be allowed, this would cover eating marijuana, vaporizing as well as smoking marijuana.
    Medical marijuana patients would be limited to obtaining no more than one ounce at a time no matter what their Doctor says or how far away they live from a place that would legally be able to sell marijuana.

    C) 25 square feet maximum grow area
    A ridiculous small area for which there is no other reason except to make people have to buy their marijuana from a store. Except for the few experienced expert marijuana growers that make no mistakes, 25 square feet is no where near enough for most of us to learn to grow our own. Let’s say my housemate and I have to share a 25 square foot grow area. We get about 2 pounds from our once a year outdoor grow. Or we could each go and buy at a store one ounce each and every day for a year. That comes to over 45 pounds we would able to buy compared to about two pounds we could grow.

    D) “Regulate cannabis like we do alcohol”
    Then the initiative says “Allow adults to possess and consume small amounts of cannabis.” Seems to me to be a contradiction. There are no laws that restrict the amount of alcohol that you are allow to possess. Private retail stores, groceries and convenience stores are allowed to sell alcohol but will not be able to sell marijuana.
    There is no age limit for handling alcohol in retail stores as long as a manager who is 21 or older is supervising. You only have to be 18 to serve alcohol in a restaurant. But this initiative states “all persons present in, employed by, or in any way involved in the operation of any such licensed premise are 21 or older.”

    E) Legal age of 21 to be covered by this initiative
    Why are adults age 18-20 not included? The age to legally buy alcohol is now 21 due to drunk drivers and if any US state did not raise their legal drinking age to 21, it would be subjected to a ten percent decrease in it’s annual federal highway apportionment. I know of no studies that show people 18-20 who consume marijuana are more dangerous drivers than those 18-20 who do not consume marijuana.

    F) “consumption by the operator of any vehicle … that impairs the operator”
    While no one wants intoxicated dangerous drivers, I know of no test that proves a person is under the influence at the time of driving. Also last week the Obama administration called for states to enact laws criminalizing motorists who drive with the residual presence of drug or inactive drug metabolites in their body. In the case of marijuana, these policies are especially egregious because its metabolites may remain present in urine for weeks or months after past use. Further, studies have consistently reported that the presence of marijuana metabolites is not associated with psychomotor impairment or an elevated risk of motor accident.

    G) Hemp
    This initiative would allow the growing and processing of Hemp. But for some unknown reason, Hemp would only be allowed to be grown (and I think processed) if the local government allows and with any regulations they write. Is there any logical reason to leave Hemp growing to local authorities?

    H) Unclear wording in this initiative
    “living and harvested cannabis plants shall be assessed by square footage, not by weight in determining the amounts set forth in section 11300(a)”. So my question is “WHO” will be the “one that assess” what one grew in 25 square feet after the harvest?
    Also “smoking cannabis in any space while minors are present”. What is the California legal definition of a “space”?

  6. Anonymous on

    There is no legalization in the US, no matter what anybody in California may say. The Feds can always charge anybody anywhere in the US for Cannabis. They wouldn’t have the manpower to arrest everyone but they could still make a nuisance of themselves. It’s not really legalization, just the local police not enforcing the federal laws. Frankly, I think people are expecting way too much out of all these Cannabis bills. They think it’s just a matter of winning a vote and it’s legalized. It’s a bit more complicated than that. The US is not alone in the world. It’s just one member of the UN, and they have a few rules.

  7. ray christl THC Ministry CamboDEA on

    Anonymous NATION calls the world SAD…Muzzle your PETS because the DOG KILLERS are around the corner.Let one GUY do all the work and celebrity is our VAIN glory.Listen to THOMAS JAMES selling your Canadian HEMP MIRACLE and learn something about magnesium from HEMP achene.Also,put RICK SIMPSON the Canadian Cancer Patient and Patriot on CANADIAN TV TO EDUCATE OPEN MINDED YOUTH.Some say his 9th grade wisdom discredits his argument,yet we *CCfamily *use logical fallacies like the EVIL we lovingly resist.ALL NURSING HOMES,RETIREMENT -CHURCH discourse with LOVE. ONE LOVE help legalize in Cannafornia,and assist a poor activist get to the PROMISED LAND.

  8. Anonymous on

    As it stands – this is just a representation of the voting populations opinion.. I’d imagine the not yet registered turnout to be VERY high for something so popular.

  9. Anonymous on

    The reason why that many people are opposed is that allot of them have been brain washed with so much false information over the years that now they believe it all, and think that somehow society will just fall apart if it were legalized. The other percentage is all the black market growers that think that the price will drop so much that they can’t reap their huge profits any more and are going to vote against it because they would rather it remain illegal so they can continue what they are doing.

  10. moldy on

    Cali’s got the highest percentage of population using cannabis and 41% that are opposed fear social problems? Just WTF do they have now? There are no social problems just the intense distaste that right wingers have against cannabis users. And of course there are many in the MMJ movement that want it…”just the way it is” Ugh!