Pubdate: Tue, 10 Dec 2013
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Jeremy B. White


In a state that pioneered rethinking marijuana laws, a majority of 
voters have legalization in mind.

A new Field Poll tracks the increasingly green-friendly attitude of 
Californians, a decades-long trend that has seen Golden State 
residents swing from seeking tougher enforcement to favoring the end 
of pot prohibition. Eight percent of voters backed allowing anyone to 
purchase cannabis and 47 percent said it should be available with the 
types of controls, like age verification, that govern alcohol sales.

Those two groups combined account for 55 percent of voters surveyed, 
marking a breakthrough for marijuana advocates: It is the first time 
a Field Poll has discovered clear majority support for legalization. 
A combined 50 percent backed the notion in 2010, when a legalization 
ballot initiative went down to defeat.

In 1969, just 13 percent favored some form of legalization, vastly 
eclipsed by the 49 percent of voters who believed harsher penalties 
were the answer. In 1983, the pro-legalization crowd comprised 30 
percent of poll respondents.

"It just seems like an inevitable trend towards the liberalization of 
the laws," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, comparing the 
changes to the type of generational shift that drove a swift 
turnaround on same-sex marriage. He suggested that people see a 
distinction between cannabis and more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Multiple poll respondents contacted by The Bee made a similar point 
about alcohol use, saying society already condones a habit at least 
as harmful as marijuana and perhaps more so.

"I don't think it's any worse than alcohol," said Janice Holland, a 
62-year-old poll respondent who lives in Kern County. "So I think at 
a certain point people have the ability  and the brain growth, when 
you're adults  to make decisions about whether or not you want to get high."

In the nearly two decades since California set the pace for marijuana 
reform by approving medical marijuana with Proposition 215, other 
states have gone further. Washington and Colorado voted in 2012 to 
legalize recreational use of the substance, repudiating the 
zero-tolerance mentality that had driven years of uncompromising drug 

Despite California's apparent receptiveness to a similar change, 
attempts at legalization or increased regulation have faltered in the 
last few years. Voters in 2010 decisively rejected Proposition 19, 
which would have largely permitted the personal use of marijuana and 
empowered local governments to tax and regulate the drug's sale. 
Attempts by the Legislature to create a state-level regulatory agency 
have failed.

Cannabis remains a federally prohibited substance classified as a 
Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no proven medical use and carries the 
highest possible risk of abuse. The Obama administration has embraced 
a cautious live-and-let-live approach with states that ease marijuana 
statutes, saying it would not sue Washington or Colorado and 
releasing a memo advising U.S. attorneys to defer to "strong and 
effective regulatory and enforcement systems" at the state or local level.

Californians could get a chance to weigh in again soon. Lt. Gov. 
Gavin Newsom, an avowed legalization advocate, announced in October 
he would head a panel studying legalization with an eye toward 
placing a measure on the 2016 ballot. Three separate legalization 
ballot measures have been submitted to the California attorney 
general's office this year.

"It's not the law yet, so the public (in California) is kind of out 
in front of their legislators and the established norms," DiCamillo 
said, adding that "the odds are improving with each passing election 
cycle" of voters affirming marijuana legalization.

One of the three proposals, which would allow Californians age 21 and 
over to buy and use marijuana, received broad support from poll 
respondents. When read the measure's summary, 56 percent said they 
would vote yes against 39 percent who said they would vote no.

Democrats and voters without a party preference resoundingly signaled 
their support, with nearly two-thirds saying they would vote yes. By 
contrast, 58 percent of Republicans rejected the idea. While support 
declined among older voters, no age group emerged as a clear "no" 
vote Californians older than 65 displayed a 47-47 percent split.

Another of those three legalization initiatives was filed on 
Thursday. Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance, the latest 
ballot measure's proponent, said the organization hasn't decided 
whether to pursue a campaign in 2014 or in 2016. But he still 
believes the prospects have improved since 2010.

"It is more clear than ever that Californians are ready to try 
something new," said Gutwillig, the Drug Policy Alliance's national 
deputy director. "They're ready to control marijuana in a different way."

The Field Poll's findings did not impress John Lovell, a lobbyist for 
the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotics 
Officers Association. He emphasized the difference between backing 
legalization in the abstract and rallying support behind a specific 
proposed law, with all of its nuances and interlocking repercussions.

"When you actually talk about the details of what a legalization 
proposal means, then voters take a very different view," Lovell said, 
referencing the unsuccessful Proposition 19 campaign. "Most people 
don't think it's a good idea," he added, "that a bus driver driving 
their children to school is an avowed marijuana user."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom