By "Radical" Russ Belville
When it comes gauging voter attitudes on the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use for California, you can pretty much find a poll to your liking.
For those lukewarm or undecided on the initiative, there’s last week’s Public Policy Institute of California poll. It showed likely voters sharply split on the measure, with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.
Those opposed would find good news in the April 19 news release from Smith Johnson Research, the private polling firm for Public Safety First, the committee for opponents of legalization.
The Smith Johnson poll showed the initiative losing resoundingly, with 56.3 percent of voters inclined to vote “no” and 36.5 percent in favor.
“Voters clearly view this debate as significantly different than the debate over medical marijuana,” concluded the lead pollster, Val Smith. “People tend to intuitively understand that full legalization is going to create problems in the workplace and on the roads.”
People who favor the measure will be heartened by the report from EMC Research Inc., the polling firm for the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign.
In a campaign memo May 19, EMC Research said 51 percent of voters who read the initiative title favored legalization and 40 percent were opposed. It said support increased to 52 percent among voters who read the ballot summary.
The memo by EMC principal Ruth Bernstein said, “Voters understand that the initiative will bring benefits to the state.”
Based on her polling questions, Bernstein said 69 percent of voters “agree that the initiative ‘will raise needed tax revenue’ and 56 percent “believe the initiative ‘is a more honest policy than the one we have now.’”
Take your pick.
We have also seen the Angus Reid poll indicate 56% support in California for legalization. This is really a hard one to call, because it is a mid-term election and the turnout of younger voters will make a big difference in how this turns out. You can bet opponents of the measure are going to hammer away at the stoned drivers and high workers angle, as if nobody smokes pot now and suddenly under legalization the roads and workplaces will be littered with burnouts.
Millions of Californians smoke pot now. If these problems were likely to occur, don’t you think that fourteen years into the quasi-legalization of marijuana via Prop-215 we’d have seen some evidence of them? Alcohol is legal in California and since 1982, alcohol has gone down from causing 61% of auto fatalities to 35% in 2008. So we can have a legal substance that causes driving deaths and through education and increased patrolling we can reduce the dangers to society. We didn’t have to lock up responsible drinkers, we just made sure to severely penalize and sometimes lock up the irresponsible ones.
The same could be said for marijuana, with one important distinction: marijuana doesn’t provide near the risk to society from impaired driving as does alcohol. The most recent double-blind placebo-controlled study funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse found that drivers performed no differently on driving tests whether they were sober or thirty minutes after they had consumed a marijuana joint. In fact, the marijuana-using drivers even slowed down and drove more carefully when potentially distracted by passenger conversation or music playing. Two other studies, from Canada and France, show that alcohol-using drivers at a .05 BAC – a level three points below what is considered to be “legally drunk” – are far more of a driving safety risk than cannabis-using drivers.