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Elections

Sun/UB Poll: Marylanders support legalizing cannabis for recreational use by wide margin

Most Marylanders plan to vote in favor of a ballot measure that would legalize cannabis in the state for those 21 and older, a poll for Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore shows.

Some 63% of the likely voters surveyed statewide said they agreed with legalizing the drug, 25% said they opposed it and 12% said they were unsure.

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If the measure succeeds on Election Day next week, possessing up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal in Maryland for those of age, starting July 1. Larger amounts still would be subject to civil fines. In addition, Marylanders would be able to grow cannabis at home.

State legislators, however, have yet to devise a regulatory framework for businesses to sell the drug to the general public, rather than just to those with medical cannabis cards. Lawmakers chose to let voters decide on the overall issue before taking those steps. If the referendum succeeds, a framework could be hashed out during the General Assembly’s next regular session this spring.

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It took several years for Maryland to stand up its medical cannabis market. The measure was signed into law in 2013, but the first dispensary didn’t open until 2017.

According to the Sun/UB poll, about a quarter of Marylanders have lingering concerns about legalizing weed.

Zeecil Kimmel, a Baltimore County Republican who participated in the poll, said she worries about increasing the prevalence of cannabis, particularly because it could make it easier for young people to obtain the drug.

“I just wish there was a way to keep it off the streets and away from our kids,” she said. “If it’s in the house, how are we going to prevent teenagers from getting ahold of that?”

In addition, she said the potential long-term health impacts of cannabis use should be studied in greater detail before it is legalized.

“I don’t understand the rush to make things legal before we know all of the potential benefits or losses,” she said.

In the poll, Republicans were slightly less likely to approve of the ballot measure than Democrats. Still, a slim majority of likely Republican voters said they would vote for legalization — 54% — compared to 69% of Democrats surveyed.

Support for the referendum varied slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Baltimore City, for instance, 75% of voters said they were in favor of the measure. In Montgomery County, the percentage 59%. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it was 55%.

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The statewide survey of 562 Democratic, 247 Republican and 180 unaffiliated likely voters was conducted by phone and online Oct. 20-23. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Joanna Matthews, a Democrat living in Montgomery County who took part in the survey, supports the ballot measure.

“I know a lot of people whose lives were destroyed because they had a nickel bag back in the day,” the 68-year-old said in a later interview.

Matthews said she’s optimistic Maryland will be able to create a recreational cannabis market in less time than it took to stand up the medical system, now that regulators have a starting point for rules.

Opponents to the ballot measure have expressed concern about a possible increase in impaired driving after legalization. But Matthews said the same problems exist with alcohol consumption.

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“Just like alcohol, people need to be able to self-police,” she said.

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About 30 supporters paraded a 51-foot inflatable joint during a rally near the State House in Annapolis.

For 59-year-old Janet Fink, a Harford County Democrat who participated in the poll, the issue of impaired driving will be a big part of the reason for her vote “Against” the cannabis legalization.

Fink said she hopes the legislature evaluates ways for law enforcement to test drivers for cannabis to ensure they are not impaired.

“Primarily, my concern is public safety,” she said.

Fink said she’s accepted that she is in the minority in Maryland, and that she still votes for candidates who approve of legalization — even though she disagrees.

“It’s not a deal breaker,” she said.

About this poll

Results are based on a representative statewide survey of 559 Democratic, 254 Republican and 169 unaffiliated Maryland residents likely to vote in the Nov. 8 election. The poll was conducted Oct. 20-23 by OpinionWorks of Annapolis for Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs and Schaefer Center for Public Policy. A cross section of voters were randomly selected and contacted by trained interviewers on cellphones and landline telephones, and additional voters were interviewed online through databases known as consumer panels. Statistical weights were applied to ensure the sample closely matched the expected makeup, based on past voting patterns, of the state’s electorate. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For the record

This article has been corrected to say how many Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated likely voters went into the methodology for this poll. The Sun regrets the error.


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