Marijuana fans probably shouldn’t get too excited about lighting up legally in New Mexico – at least, not just yet.
A Journal flash poll conducted last week found more registered voters were opposed to marijuana legalization than favored it.
Forty percent of the respondents statewide said the use of marijuana should be legal in New Mexico, 47 percent said it should not, and 13 percent said they were not sure.
The statewide telephone survey of 459 registered voters was conducted May 8 by Research & Polling Inc. of Albuquerque.
In New Mexico, marijuana use is legal only for medical purposes, although there have been efforts in the Legislature in recent years to decriminalize the drug and to legalize its use generally.
Fifty-five percent of voters 18 to 34 years old said marijuana use should be legal, while 60 percent of those ages 65 or over said it should not, according to the poll.
Legalization was endorsed by 41 percent of the men who were polled and 39 percent of the women. On the other side, 43 percent of the men polled, and 51 percent of the women, said it should not be legalized.
A majority – 53 percent – of the Anglos polled said marijuana should not be legalized, compared with 38 percent of Hispanics and 44 percent of Native Americans.
“Anglos, women and seniors are more likely to say that it should not be legal than other groups,” said Research & Polling President Brian Sanderoff.
A poll done by the same firm last year for the Drug Policy Alliance asked a more detailed question: whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.
Fifty-two percent of voters statewide who were polled said they either strongly supported or somewhat supported that proposal.
“It’s interesting that when voters are asked straight up whether marijuana use should be legalized, a plurality say it should not,” Sanderoff said. “However, support levels increase significantly when voters are given information about what marijuana legislation may entail, namely tax revenue and regulation.”
In 2013, a bill to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana passed the state House just a few days before the end of the session; it wasn’t considered by the Senate.
This year, a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana that would have put the question to voters was introduced in the Legislature but not acted on.
Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance said poll results may vary depending on the question asked, “but we feel pretty confident that New Mexicans support some sort of marijuana reform” – from penalty reduction to legalization.
Some lawmakers have said they want to wait and see what happens in neighboring Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized.
Sanderoff said it’s hard to know how the Colorado experience is affecting public opinion in New Mexico.
“I suspect proponents and opponents of legalization would selectively focus on the good news or bad news coming out of Colorado to reinforce their prior gut feelings,” he said.
The specific question in the Journal flash poll was: Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal in New Mexico, or not?
For the Journal flash poll, 74 percent of the interviews were conducted via landline telephones, using a recorded interactive voice response system. Twenty-six percent were conducted via cellphone interviews, using professional telephone interviewers.
The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
Coming Monday: Is it “fair game” for the news media to report private conversations that have been recorded?