Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

June 3, 2010
November initiative tests a big voting block: marijuana smokers

California's November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use may well ride on a potent voting block - people who currently smoke marijuana or have used pot in the past.

All told, past and present pot smokers comprise 37 percent of registered voters in California, according to a recent poll undertaken by the University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences and the Los Angeles Times.

That's well more than the number of registered Republicans (31 percent) and independent voters (20 percent) and within striking distance of the number of Democrats (just under 45 percent.)

The significance is that pot smokers overwhelmingly support the November initiative to legalize recreational use for Californians over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate marijuana.

"It is a very identifiable and easily targeted voter group," said Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. "It's very clear that individuals who have used marijuana either medicinally or for recreation are a lot more likely to vote for the initiative.

"Short of giving out free baggies at the polling place, the smartest thing for the 'yes' side to do is motivate that base to turn out on election day."

Yet Dan Newman, a strategist from the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign, said there will be no bring-the-smokers-to-the-polls election push.

"There won't be any sophisticated, fancy pants micro-targeting," Newman insisted. "We simply don't need it. We have truth, justice and common sense on our side."

In the USC/L.A. Times statewide poll conducted May 19-26, eleven percent of registered voters reported using marijuana in the past year. Of those, 82 percent favored the legalization initiative.

Twenty-six percent of registered voters said they have smoked pot in the past - and 61 percent favored the measure. Overall, 68 percent of current and former marijuana smokers backed legalization.

Voters who never used marijuana opposed legalization by a lesser margin, 53 to 36 percent, according to the poll.

And indications are pot smoking voters will be motivated -- and not too medicated -- to cast their ballots.

Some 88 percent of registered voters who have used marijuana in the past told pollsters they were "almost certain" to vote in 2010 and another seven percent said they would "probably" vote. Seventy-five percent of voters who smoked in the past year reported they were extremely likely to vote and another 14 percent said they would probably cast ballots.

Newman, who promotes the pot measure as an important source of tax revenues for
California communities, predicted the initiative will bring out both smoker-voters and others newly discovering where their local polling places are located.

"There are going to be people showing up at the polls who don't vote in every election because this is on the ballot," Newman said.

But Wayne Johnson, lead campaign consultant for Public Safety First, which opposes the legalization, said voters' marijuana use will prove to be irrelevant. Public Safety First, a coalition of law enforcement, transportation and religious organizations, attacks the initiative as promoting a drug that causes physical impairment and presents a safety risk.

"We're going to win both of those groups (pot users and non-users) before this is over - because it's not about marijuana," Johnson said. "People who have driven under the influence are certainly not going to vote for driving under the influence. I don't think the fact that somebody is or isn't a marijuana user takes away from that notion of the public good."

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