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ACLU poll finds growing support for legalizing pot

A new poll commissioned in part by the American Civil Liberties Union found growing support in Maryland for both decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it outright.

Two-thirds of residents surveyed supported eliminating jail time for marijuana possession, and a majority backed allowing Maryland to regulate and tax pot like alcohol.

Commissioned by the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project, the survey's findings mirror national attitudes about legalizing the drug. In April, a national poll released by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time in four decades, a majority of Americans supported legalizing marijuana.

In Maryland, the ACLU, the Marijuana Policy Project and the state chapter of the NAACP, have lobbied the General Assembly to loosen criminal penalties or legalize marijuana. Lawmakers this year endorsed a medical marijuana program, but they rejected measures that would have eliminated jail time for marijuana convictions or legalized the drug.

"We should not be wasting resources arresting people simply for possessing marijuana," Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, said this week. "Enforcement of these misguided marijuana laws is having a disproportionate and detrimental impact on communities of color."

The poll of 678 Maryland residents, released Thursday, shows shifting attitudes toward more liberal marijuana policies, compared to a similar survey conducted two years ago by the same company, Public Policy Polling.

This year, 68 percent said they supported decriminalizing marijuana for personal use, up from 57 percent in 2011. And the proportion of residents behind complete legalization grew 13 points to 53 percent this year. The survey has a 3.8 point margin of error.

This year, Maryland became the 19th state to create a medical marijuana program. The state Senate approved a bill that nixed jail time for marijuana convictions, but the measure died in a House committee. A bill to legalize marijuana did not get a vote on the floor.

Since then, the Department of Justice announced it would not enforce federal marijuana possession laws in Colorado and Washington, the two states that have approved recreational marijuana use.

Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the federal decision negates one of the top arguments against legalization by states.

"We can see now that the federal government's position is clear, more people are asserting that they are ready for a more sensible approach to marijuana policy," she said.

ecox@baltsun.com

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