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January 4, 2012 at 10:10 AM

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New poll shows voters split on legalizing marijuana

A new statewide poll shows voters evenly divided on the question of legalizing marijuana as the state Legislature takes up the question next week.

The Elway Research poll of 411 randomly selected voters found 48 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed to legalization, which is likely headed to the November 2012 ballot in the form of Initiative 502. The margin of error is 5 percentage points.

The initiative, run by a campaign called New Approach Washington, heads to the Legislature first, but will be on the presidential ballot unless lawmakers approve it.

The support softened from an Elway poll in July, when 54 percent, asked a more general question about marijuana legalization, expressed support.

Pollster Stuart Elway said that downward trend should concern initiative sponsors. Conventional wisdom says an initiative should start with support in the mid-60s because undecided voters usually vote against ballot measures.

"If you're a supporter, it's going the wrong way," he said.

The initiative would legalize and tax one-ounce sales of marijuana to people 21 and over, and authorize privately-owned, state-licensed marijuana retail stores and grow operations. Washington voters in 1998 allowed medical marijuana for authorized patients, but they haven't had a chance to vote on full legalization.

Elway said the campaign needs to sway women voters, who were far less likely to support legalization (52% men, 43% women), and to ensure young voters (69% of voters under 35 support) turn out to vote.

Alison Holcomb, campaign director for New Approach, noted the Elway poll question was broadly worded, without mentioning provisions in I-502 -- including an estimated $215 million in marijuana tax revenue earmarked for health and drug-abuse prevention programs -- that are popular with voters.

"Our research over the years have shown us that voters really care about what the details are," she said.

New Approach, using paid signature gatherers, turned in more than 341,000 signatures to the Washington Secretary of State in late December. The prime opposition thus far has been medical-marijuana patients, who say I-502's driving-under-the-influence provisions would inhibit their ability to work and live while using legally authorized medicine.
elway marijuana poll.JPG
Elway Research

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