Things are said to come in threes. If so, "things" are not polls showing a majority support for marijuana legalization.
After pot-friendly polls conducted by Gallup and Rasmussen gave cannabis a little hope, an LA Times/USC poll released May 31 became the real downer when it showed only 46 percent of Californians thought legalization is a good idea. That's the same kind of tepid reception that killed all hope for a pot legalization measure on the ballot in the fall.
The notion that the nation's first medical marijuana state -- and the place with the country's pot-friendliest environments -- would show less love for legalization than flyover country has been received in stride by the legalization movement. That is to say, the poll was dismissed as an outlier, but also taken as proof that the marijuana movement in California might have plateaued, and is awaiting changes elsewhere in the country before it can truly progress.
First, the science: the LA Times poll queried 1,002 registered voters and asked a slightly different question than Rasmussen did. The nationwide poll asked if the drug should be regulated and taxed, while the Times poll asked only if marijuana should be legalized for "general adult or recreational" use. To that, 50 percent of responders said no, with 5 percent responding "I don't know."
(And, yes, those figures add up to 101 percent, which is why we are not pollsters).
The Bay Area remains the state's marijuana-friendliest zone -- and the only place where legalization enjoys majority support in California, with 55 percent in favor. Politically, close to two-thirds of registered independents support legalization, with 50 percent of Democrats and only 28 percent of Republicans in favor.
The result is similar to Proposition 19's showing in November 2010. The Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 2010 won 46.2 percent of the statewide vote.
The poll shows "we have a way to go before" hitting the magic number of 60 percent support, said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "We've hit a plateau.... The public has a dissatisfaction over the confusion in the way the state's handled medical marijuana -- and we're further thrown backward by the federal crackdown."
Washington policy makers have more sway than state legislators on this issue, Gieringer said. The four U.S. Attorneys in California have erratically, but effectively, shut down state-legal dispensaries since Oct. 7 of last year. And in 2010, the way Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Prosecutor Melinda Haag -- who said that the Controlled Substances Act would be "vigorously
enforced" and local lawmakers subject to federal prosecution should
Prop. 19 pass -- and the Justice Department handled pot clubs were seen as pivotal in helping defeat Prop. 19 at the polls.
That said, no poll makes policy -- and there may be some other problems with this one.
"It's hard to believe that across the nation, there's 10 percent more support across the country than in California," said activist and consultant Mickey Martin, who blogs at www.cannabiswarrior.com.
Then again, at this point, with medical marijuana in its 16th year in California and in the news with regularity, who, exactly, are the swing votes -- and what could swing someone one way or the other. The poll doesn't say, and the differing results with different questions belies any poll's true validity.
"I'm sure people on our side are pooh-poohing that [LA Times] poll, and people on the other side were pooh-poohing Rasmussen," Gieringer said. "It's really hard to say for sure where things are."
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