Miami-Dade County

Will Joe Six-Pack become Joe Dime Bag? Florida poll says marijuana legalization backed 55-41

A clear majority of Floridians, 55 percent, favor outright legalization of marijuana for personal recreational use, according to a new poll indicating a medical cannabis initiative headed for the November ballot still looks as if it will easily pass.

Support for medical-marijuana use among adults is even more outsized: 88-10 percent, Quinnipiac University’s survey of 1,251 voters shows.

But that poll question, about marijuana use among adults, doesn’t directly relate to the proposed constitutional amendment voters will decide because that initiative allows prescription cannabis use by any qualifying patient, including children.

Other surveys that have polled Florida’s exact amendment language that will appear on the ballot find support at roughly 70 percent — 10 percent more than a constitutional amendment needs for passage in Florida.

Quinnipiac’s overall poll digs deeper into Florida’s attitudes about pot than other polls and it finds that the state’s political climate reflects a nationwide trend that increasingly favors marijuana. So far, 23 states and Washington DC have approved medical marijuana laws. Washington state and Colorado decriminalized marijuana for personal use

“Obviously,” said Peter A. Brown, Quinnipiac’s assistant polling director, “the fact two states have legalized personal possession of small amounts of marijuana — and neither of them have imploded — helps create the kind of environment that seems to be making marijuana more acceptable to Jill or Joe Six-Pack.”

But don’t go renaming them “Jill or Joe Dime Bag” just yet.

Though support for limited legalization is at 55-41 percent — a 14-percentage-point margin that has grown from a 2-point margin last November — a minority of Florida voters say they’ve used pot. Forty four percent say they’ve tried it, 55 percent say they haven’t.

Medical marijuana also doesn’t appear to suffer from a not-in-my-backyard problem, either.

By 71-26 percent, voters said they’d support having a medical-marijuana dispensary in their home town or city.

Support for most marijuana-related issues is highest among Democrats, men and young people. When it comes to recreational legalization, only Republicans (41-56 percent) and those over 65 years old (36-59 percent) are opposed. Medical marijuana use for adults is supported by big margins by every demographic.

For years, the Florida Legislature refused even to hear measures about marijuana, but then it abruptly reversed course in 2014 when the proposed medical-marijuana initiative was headed to the ballot. The Legislature then passed a law to legalize precription low-dose THC marijuana that’s primarily used by epileptics, specifically children.

Vote No on 2, the opponents of the medical-marijuana initiative, say it’s a gateway to legalization and some say that the new Florida law is enough. The group also criticized the polling language used by Quinnipiac.

“Why won’t Quinnipiac ask whether or not voters support Amendment 2 — which is the only thing that will appear on the ballot? That’s the real question,” Vote No on 2 said in a statement. “This poll has been, and continues to be, a complete outlier in support of medical marijuana because it asks a question that won’t be on the ballot.”

When The Miami Herald first raised the issue of the poll question’s wording, the university’s polling director, Doug Schwartz, explained in a May email that, “We decided to use the same wording that we’ve used in the past in order to compare with past results in FL and also to be able to compare with other states that we’ve polled on this issue.”

The initiative’s backers say the proposed amendment would help far more people because it gives doctors more of a say to recommend medical marijuana to a larger group of sick people who have “debilitating” medical conditions.

The amendment fight has a partisan dimension.

Vote No on 2 is primarily funded by Republicans, including Las Vegas gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who chipped in $2.5 million to fight the Florida initiative.

Adelson’s opposition to medical marijuana in Florida mystifies political observers, who note that the Republican financier hails from a state that has more-liberal medical-marijuana laws than Florida’s proposal, that he didn’t appear to fight that home-state initiative and that he has funded medical-marijuana research in Israel.

The amendment pushed by the pro-medical-use United for Care group was financed heavily by John Morgan, a wealthy trial lawyer who employs Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist at his law firm. Morgan said his interest in the issue isn’t about politics.

Crist says he favors the proposal and Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he opposes it. Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian candidate for governor, has been the most vocal about pot, calling for outright legalization. Wyllie pulled about 9 percent support in the latest Quinnipiac poll, while Crist edged Scott by 2 points, inside the poll’s 2.8 percentage-point margin.

“For someone’s in Wyllie’s position, case talking about legalization of marijuana has very little downside,” said Quinnipiac’s Brown.

United for Care cheered the survey’s numbers.

“It’s another reminder that this issue remains uncontroversial for the vast majority of Floridians,” said Ben Pollara, United for Care’s director. “The fact is, most people agree that sick individuals should be able to follow their doctor’s orders without having to live like a criminal.”