With tolerance for marijuana increasing around the country, a poll released Monday indicates that Florida may not lag far behind.
According to the Quinnipiac University poll, 88 percent of Florida voters now would allow use of marijuana for medical purposes — broad support that cuts across age, gender and political lines. That is up from 82 percent support that Quinnipiac reported in November.
About 55 percent of Floridians would legalize marijuana for recreational use, the poll reported — up 7 percent from November.
It's not entirely clear what the poll results will mean for a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that will go to Florida voters Nov. 4. Quinnipiac's question is not the same as the ballot language.
But the poll does show increasing acceptance of marijuana use — medical or otherwise — consistent with a nationwide trend. Twenty-three states and the District of Colombia now allow medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have approved recreational use.
Sunday, the New York Times called on Congress to end criminalization of pot at the federal level, citing 658,000 arrests for possession in 2012. Those arrests disproportionately fell on young black men, "for a substance far less dangerous than alcohol,'' the newspaper wrote.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, which is promoting Florida's medical marijuana amendment, hailed the poll results.
"What is true today will be true on Election Day,'' Pollara said. "Allowing sick and suffering individuals to follow the orders of their physician is simply not a controversial position for the vast majority of voters.''
Florida's Amendment 2 would allow people with debilitating conditions to get a medical marijuana card. A doctor would have to conduct an examination, take the patient's medical history and issue a recommendation to the state that pot would be beneficial.
Over the last few years, various groups have polled Floridians about medical marijuana. Results vary depending on the wording of the question and when the poll was taken. Support has typically ranged between 60 and 75 percent.
Quinnipiac's poll asked voters if they would favor letting adults use pot with a doctor's prescription. The amendment language, however, does not restrict use to adults. Plus, doctors cannot prescribe pot, which is not an FDA-approved medicine. They can only recommend its use.
"This poll has been, and continues to be, a complete outlier in support of medical marijuana because it asks a question that won't be on the ballot,'' said Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the Vote No on 2 campaign. "Even the recent poll by the Yes on 2 campaign shows significantly less support for their own amendment than this poll that relies on misleading wording and flawed methodology."
Support for Amendment 2 could also drop once the campaign advertising battle begins in earnest. In Florida, polling numbers for any constitutional amendment tend to drop once the opposition weighs in.
The Vote No on 2 group has amassed a war chest of more than $3 million, including $2.5 million from Las Vegas gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson and $322,000 from Publix CEO Carol Jenkins Barnett.
They have hired John Sowinski, an Orlando consultant widely regarded as Florida's guru for orchestrating constitutional amendment fights.
Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who financed the petition campaign to get Amendment 2 on the ballot, has yet to pitch in big sums to get it passed.
Constitutional amendments in Florida require at least a 60 percent majority, traditionally a high bar, but Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said the latest polling results "make a strong bet the referendum is likely to pass.''
As far as recreational use goes, the poll showed a gender split, with men favoring legalization of "small amounts of marijuana for personal use" by 61 percent to 36 percent while women are more skeptical, with 49 percent approving and 45 percent opposed.
Young voters support the idea by a 72 percent to 25 percent margin, while voters 65 and older are opposed by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent.
The survey also found that 71 percent of voters would support having a medical marijuana dispensary in the town where they live. The lowest level of support for having a dispensary in their neighborhoods comes from voters over age 65, with 57 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed.
The poll found that 44 percent of Florida voters say they have tried pot, including 51 percent of men, 39 percent of women and 48 percent of voters ages 18 to 29. Just 23 percent of voters over 65 say they've tried marijuana.
Connecticut-based Quinnipiac frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states. From July 17 to 21, it surveyed 1,251 registered Florida voters with a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report. Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at [email protected]