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Journal Poll: Pot legalization falls short with NM voters

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A proposed constitutional change legalizing marijuana never made it to this year’s ballot, but it looks like it would have been a hard sell with voters anyway.

A statewide Journal Poll of likely voters in the Nov. 4 general election found 50 percent of respondents opposed to legalization, while 44 percent favored it.

Another 3 percent told pollsters they had mixed feelings, while 3 percent didn’t know or wouldn’t say.

a00_jd_18sept_Permanent_fund_scholarshipsThe poll question was: “Do you support or oppose legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults in New Mexico, with a tax and regulation system, similar to Colorado?”

In New Mexico, marijuana use is legal only for medical purposes. There have been unsuccessful efforts in the Legislature in recent years to legalize it generally.

Most recently, a proposed constitutional amendment was introduced in this year’s legislative session but never went anywhere. If it had been approved by lawmakers, it would have gone to the November ballot for ratification by voters.

Despite failure of the amendment in the Legislature, another marijuana issue could end up on the Nov. 4 ballots in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties: the possibility of reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug.

Commissioners in the two counties want the questions on the ballot to gauge voter support, but the results would not be mandatory. Secretary of State Dianna Duran refuses, saying it would be illegal because they’re merely advisory. The issue is now in the state Supreme Court, where a hearing is scheduled today.

Breaking it down

In the poll conducted for the Journal on Sept. 9 to 11 by Research & Polling Inc., marijuana legalization was supported by 46 percent of male respondents and 41 percent of females. Fifty-one percent of men opposed it, and 50 percent of women.

“One of the more interesting things we see here is age and political party are the biggest predictors of public opinion on the marijuana issue,” said Research & Polling President Brian Sanderoff.

That is, younger voters liked the idea more than older voters, and Democrats favored it more than Republicans.

Of the voters between 18 and 34, for example, 67 percent supported legalization; only 28 percent of those 65 and over supported it.

Among the Democratic voters polled, 55 percent supported legalization, while only 29 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents did.

Regionally, legalization had the strongest support in north-central New Mexico – including Santa Fe and Taos – at 51 percent of respondents.

Support was 47 percent in the Albuquerque metro area, 46 percent in the south/southwest and 33 percent in the northwest and on the state’s east side.

“In the more conservative, rural parts of our state … support levels are lowest and opposition is highest,” Sanderoff said.

Ethnicity wasn’t a factor in whether respondents favored legalization, according to the poll results. Legalization was supported by 44 percent of voters describing themselves as Hispanic and 45 percent who said they were Anglo.

Support also increased with education attainment levels. Thirty percent of respondents who are high school graduates or less favored legalization; that climbed to 51 percent for those with post-college graduate work or degrees.

Likely voters

The Journal Poll, which also included questions on candidate preference in the Nov. 4 general election, was a survey of likely voters, Sanderoff noted.

Because this is a non-presidential year, that means there was a higher proportion of older voters among those polled. Younger voters – who are more likely to favor legalization – don’t participate as fully in non-presidential years.

When Sanderoff, using the same polling data, adjusted the demographic composition of the Journal Poll to reflect registered voters – rather than likely voters – the support for marijuana legalization increased.

Forty-nine percent supported it, under the registered-voter scenario, and 45 percent opposed it, he said.

“Likely voters are not ready to legalize marijuana in a low-turnout election,” the pollster said. “But what would happen in a presidential-election, high-turnout year? We might see different outcomes.”

Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance said that nationally, just over 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, and New Mexico is getting closer to that mark.

“I think it’s still realistic to say New Mexicans are following that trend, and there appears to be a sort of wait-and-see perspective, to see what’s going to happen in Washington and Colorado,” she said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, proposed the constitutional amendment this year and says he’ll likely offer it again next year.

“The whole point is, let’s get it out to the voters and see what they think,” he said.

Constitutional changes don’t require a governor’s signature; they go directly to voters on a statewide ballot. Both Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is seeking re-election, and her Democratic challenger, Attorney General Gary King, oppose legalization.

The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 500 voters who cast ballots in the 2010 and 2012 elections and said they were likely to vote again this year.

The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

All interviews were conducted live by professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Both landlines (73 percent) and cellphone numbers (27 percent) of proven general election voters were used.