Pubdate: Sun, 08 May 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Michael Levenson


Massachusetts voters are evenly divided over a proposed ballot 
question that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but 
they strongly support another proposed referendum that would allow 
more charter schools in the state, according to a new Suffolk 
University/Boston Globe poll.

Voters also overwhelmingly back legislation that would protect 
transgender people from discrimination in malls, restaurants, and 
other public accommodations - and allow people to use the public 
restroom that matches their gender identity.

Even more popular was a proposed "millionaires' tax" that would raise 
rates on residents with annual incomes of $1 million or more. It 
garnered runaway support in the poll.

The survey clarifies public sentiment on some of the most divisive 
issues in Massachusetts as forces on both sides gear up for costly 
ballot fights this fall and for massive lobbying campaigns on Beacon Hill.

The live landline and cellphone poll of 500 likely voters was 
conducted May 2 to 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 
percentage points.

On one of the most closely watched ballot campaigns, 43 percent said 
they would support legalizing marijuana for those 21 and older, while 
46 percent said they would oppose it. Eleven percent were undecided.

Support for the question was strongest among younger voters and 
minorities. Older voters and Republicans were most opposed, although 
opposition was also strong among women and members of union households.

"If it works for you for a medical reason, fine," said Bob Bruno, a 
75-year-old retired steel mill and construction worker from 
Pittsfield, in an interview after the poll. "If you legalize it, it 
gets totally out of hand."

But Melissa Wilson, a 37-year-old registered nurse from Tyngsborough, 
said she would vote for the measure.

Unlike opioids, "I have really not seen marijuana cause problems, 
because most people get hungry, chill out, and hang out," she said. 
"It's not necessarily proven to be the gateway drug that it was 
supposed to be in the '70s."

If approved on the November ballot, the measure would allow retail 
sales beginning in January 2018. It would also permit adults to grow 
up to 12 plants per household for personal use, which might be a 
sticking point for voters.

Asked specifically about growing marijuana at home, 50 percent of 
likely voters were opposed, while 40 percent supported home cultivation.

Overall, the poll indicated that support for legalizing the 
recreational use of marijuana has barely budged since a Globe poll in 
July 2014 found 48 percent were in favor and 47 percent opposed.

Voters have legalized recreational marijuana use in four states - 
Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon - as well as in Washington, D.C.

Backers argue that if marijuana is regulated like alcohol, it could 
raise tax revenue and improve the health and safety of children by 
moving marijuana sales from the streets to licensed stores that are 
required to check IDs.

Opponents - including Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura 
Healey, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston - argue that when 
marijuana is legal, young people are more likely to use it and that 
legalization might harm efforts to combat the state's opioid epidemic.

The poll suggests "it's going to be an uphill fight" for marijuana 
advocates because ballot campaigns generally need an early lead to 
cushion them against voters who have an ingrained opposition to any 
change in the status quo, said David Paleologos, the director of 
Suffolk University's Political Research Center, which conducted the 
poll. "The 'yes' side needs to calm people's fears and disconnect the 
issue from opioids," Paleologos added.

On another highly charged issue, 50 percent of likely voters said 
they would support a November ballot question to lift the cap on the 
number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Thirty-three percent were 
opposed, and 16 percent were undecided.

Support for the question was solid among virtually all voters, 
regardless of age, race, gender, political affiliation, and 
geography. The results represent a shift from a Globe poll in August 
2014, when voters were torn over the issue, with 47 percent opposed 
to lifting the cap and 43 percent supporting such a change.

One reason for the tilt in favor of charter schools: Backers appear 
to be winning the propaganda war.

Forty-nine percent said they agree with the argument, advanced by 
charter school advocates, that the schools offer better options for 
students and parents. Just 32 percent said they agree with the 
opponents' argument that charter schools drain resources from 
traditional public schools.

Dan Apstein, a 41-year-old from Lexington who works for a software 
company, said he supports lifting the cap based on the experience of 
friends whose children attend charter schools.

"They like them," he said, adding that, "if your kid can get into 
them, they're superior to the public options."

Charter schools are generally not unionized, and critics worry about 
their financial impact on local school budgets, because students who 
attend charter schools take with them a certain amount in state aid 
from their hometown districts.

"I'd like to see the state - instead of lifting the cap on charter 
schools - give more money to the public schools," said Virginia 
Fuller, a 75-year-old retired teacher from Lynn, who responded to the poll.

A business-backed coalition has said it plans to spend $12 million to 
push the charter measure this fall, while teachers unions are 
expected to pour significant resources into a campaign to defeat the 

If approved, the ballot question would allow for the creation or 
expansion of 12 charters per year, with a preference for proposals in 
the lowest-performing districts, greatly adding to the state's 
existing stock of 81 charter schools.

On another contentious issue, 53 percent of likely voters support 
legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination and 
allow them to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender 
identity. Thirty percent were opposed, and 15 percent were undecided.

The legislation had languished on Beacon Hill until late last month, 
when House lawmakers released a new version of the bill and Governor 
Baker, who had refused to take a stance on the issue, signaled that 
he would not veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, a supporter of the bill, said his 
chamber will debate the legislation on Thursday.

Fuller was among those surveyed who would support the bill. Although 
she doesn't know any transgender people, she said, "I want to make 
sure people get their rights, and if that's something people need, then fine."

She added that during a recent visit to New York City, some of her 
friends used a gender-neutral bathroom in a restaurant.

"And you know what?" Fuller said. "It was OK."

Asked about a proposed "millionaires tax," the poll found lopsided 
support, with 70 percent favoring higher taxes on the wealthy and 24 
percent opposed. Six percent were undecided.

Backed by labor unions, religious organizations, and liberal groups, 
the measure would raise rates by 4 percentage points on those who 
earn more than $1 million annually and direct the $1 billion in 
annual revenue to education and transportation.

Because the change would require an amendment to the state 
constitution, it faces a series of legal and political hurdles before 
it can appear before voters on the ballot in 2018.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom