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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 22, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Marijuana legalization leads in new polls, but not a lock

Washington is emerging as the most likely state to be the first to legalize marijuana according to new polls. But even with a huge fundraising advantage, and less organized opposition, Initiative 502 is far from a lock as voters begin casting ballots.

A poll released today by Strategies 360 finds a 54-to-38 lead for I-502, with about 7 percent undecided (rounding errors cause it not add up to 100 percent). A larger poll last week, the KCTS 9 Washington Poll, gave I-502 a 51-to-41 lead among all voters; among likely voters, it leads 47-40 percent, indicating considerable uncertainty.

Those compare favorably with the latest poll in Colorado by the Denver Post, where a marijuana legalization measure leads 48-to-43, but with support weakening and opposition firming up. Legalization is also on the ballot in Oregon, but that measure, which proposes less regulation of legalized marijuana than measures in Washington or Colorado, is far behind in the polls.

Washington’s I-502 would treat marijuana like alcohol, with heavily taxed sales to people 21-and-over at state-licensed marijuana stores, and a new “per se” limit for marijuana impairment among drivers. The initiative strips criminal penalties for adults for one ounce of pot. The pro campaign has raised nearly $5.5 million and has drawn support from the political mainstream, including two former U.S. Attorneys, the state labor council and travel guru Rick Steves, who was featured in a story in today’s Seattle Times.

Despite those advantages, the new poll by Strategies 360 (a Seattle-based political consulting firm usually tied to Democrats) finds somewhat soft support: just 34 percent “strongly support” I-502, and 20% “somewhat support”. Similar ratios were found in the  KCTS 9 Washington Poll.

According to conventional political wisdom on initiatives, wavering voters often end up saying no, because they are uncertain of the consequences. This is the first marijuana legalization measure on the ballot, so voters may be still processing the wide-ranging implications. And I-502 has a lot of implications: the 66-page measure sets up a new state marijuana enforcement and taxing scheme that some feel is ripe for a lawsuit from the feds.

But the good news for I-502 is that overall support for marijuana legalization (asked as a separate question in the Strategies360 poll) mirrors support for the specific initiative; the issue is ripe here in Washington, regardless of the specifics. And in both polls,  younger voters overwhelmingly – ie, over 60% – like legalization. If younger voters are enticed to vote for president, or for the gay marriage initiative, Washington could make history in November.

Strategies 360 poll queried 500 registered voters from Oct. 17-20, resulting in a 4.4 percent margin of error. The Washington Poll was conducted Oct. 1-16 with 782 registered voters and 644 likely voters; margin of error was 3.5 percent among registered voters and 3.9 percent among likely voters.





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