Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Measure to Legalize Marijuana Trails in California, If Polls Are Right

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Measure to Legalize Marijuana Trails in California, If Polls Are Right

Article excerpt

California's Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana use for adults, is trailing 51 percent to 39 percent, a poll released Friday shows. But some say polling on this issue may be problematic.

If this is Friday, California's ballot measure to legalize marijuana use for adults must be ... losing?

That, indeed, is the result of the latest poll on Proposition 19. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll released early Friday shows likely voters oppose the ballot initiative by 51 percent to 39 percent, with 8 percent undecided or declining to state their intent.

However, there are a lot of "howevers." Foremost is that poll results on this particular initiative have seesawed wildly - reflecting either fast-changing views of Californians about legalizing marijuana or, perhaps as likely, the difficulty of getting accurate survey results on this issue.

Four polls conducted in September, for instance, had Prop. 19 winning. This month, four polls have it losing and one poll has it winning. In all of those polls but one, the "undecideds" were at least 7 percent - and in most cases that undecided number was bigger than the win-loss point margin in the poll.

That, coupled with suspicion that pro-legalization respondents may not be telling pollsters their true feelings about the measure, makes it hard to tell what's really going on with California voters.

"There are very good reasons to think the polls could either be overestimating or underestimating Proposition 19's support," writes Nate Silver, a blogger for the election forecasting site "In spite of the recent trends against Proposition 19, therefore, I would be inclined to take the recent polling at face value, which suggests that the measure has about even odds of passing."

The Los Angeles Times/USC poll, conducted by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the Republican firm American Viewpoint, surveyed 441 likely voters by phone, both cellphone and land lines, from Oct. 13 to 20. It had a 4.6 percent margin of error.

Here are some explanations both sides offer for the apparent shift in voter sentiment against Prop. 19:

- Two days into the polling period, US Attorney General Eric Holder came to California to announce that the Obama administration would "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws against people who sell, distribute, or grow marijuana for recreational use - thereby making clear that pot users would still face criminal sanctions no matter what happens with Prop. 19.

- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed legislation making possession of an ounce of marijuana an "infraction" (as opposed to misdemeanor), and voters may feel that a punishment that is the practical equivalent of a traffic ticket is appropriate - and all that needs to be done.

- Races for governor and Senate in California may be affecting voters' views on Prop. …

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