Poll: 82 percent favor medical marijuana, plurality support pot legalization

11/21/2013 9:42 AM

11/21/2013 4:48 PM

If a medical marijuana initiative makes Florida’s ballot next year, it could pass with an astonishing 82 percent of the vote, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday that finds voters also favor outright legalization as well.

Support for the proposed constitutional amendment is strong among voters of every political stripe, age and income level, with independents lending the most support: 88 percent, the poll shows.

The overall 82-16 percent support for medical marijuana is the biggest to date. The previous high-point for Florida approval was about 70 percent in a poll taken earlier this year by the medical-marijuana advocacy group, People United for Medical Marijuana.

There are some differences in wording between the initiative and the Quinnipiac poll; the amendment says doctors can "recommend" marijuana, the poll asks if a doctor should be able to "prescribe" it.

Still, medical marijuana is clearly popular. And marijuana legalization is becoming more-liked as well, albeit narrowly.

Nearly half of Florida voters favor it — 48 percent — while 46 percent oppose pot legalization for personal use. That’s within the margin of error, but it’s a leading indicator of a shift in public opinion. Support for legalization is again strongest among independents (57-37 percent), and then Democrats (55-39 percent).

But Republicans are opposed 30-64 percent. Contrast that with GOP voter support for medical marijuana is solid: 70-26 percent.

One early poll and analysis from People United found that medical-marijuana was so popular that it could alter the course of the governor’s race.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes medical marijuana; Democrats Charlie Crist and Nan Rich support the initiative, which is funded and led by Crist’s employer, trial attorney John Morgan, a Democratic donor. A major Florida Republican donor, former ambassador Mel Sembler, is opposing the measure through his Drug Free America Foundation.

In the race for governor, the Quinnipiac poll found Scott trailed Crist poll by 7 percentage points, 40-47 percent. That’s an improvement for Scott, however, compared to the last Quinnipiac Poll in June, when the governor trailed by 10 percentage points.

Since Quinnipiac’s last poll in June, Crist has lost some standing among independent voters. One possible reason: As soon as the former governor announced he was running for office, Scott began attacking him in television ads that began running a full year before the election.

As for medical marijuana’s fate, the proposed amendment — which takes 60 percent voter approval to pass in Florida — appears to be on an easy path to victory at the moment. But only if it makes the ballot.

The Florida legislative leaders and the state’s Attorney General want the state Supreme Court to block the measure from the ballot, saying the ballot summary is misleading and that it violates a rule that limits the scope of a constitutional amendment to a single subject. People United for Medical Marijuana, the advocacy group pushing the measure, say the criticisms are false.

“This poll shows yet again that Floridians overwhelmingly support a compassionate medical marijuana policy in Florida, despite the continued opposition of out-of-touch, Tallahassee politicians like Pam Bondi,” said Ben Pollara, treasurer for People United.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear the matter next month.

Even if it passes constitutional muster, People United needs to collect 683,149 verified voter signatures by February. People United has gathered 200,000 so far, of which more than 110,000 had been verified last month.

In November, Miami Beach voters approved a non-binding straw poll calling for medical marijuana by 64 percent.

A number of critics are starting to more actively denounce the measure in Florida.

Grady Judd, Polk County’s sheriff and the head of the Florida Sheriffs Association, likened marijuana to more dangerous drugs and pointed criticisms about the effectiveness of marijuana as medicine from the Florida Medical Association, American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

“Lawmakers and law enforcement have worked tirelessly to get Florida’s crime rate to its current 42-year low,” Judd said in a statement. “Let’s not roll back that progress by legalizing a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

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