Nearly three in four Tampa Bay residents would support amending the state Constitution to legalize medical marijuana, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP poll.
The poll, which surveyed 605 registered voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points, found support for the measure across all age groups.
What's more, 59 percent of respondents said they would personally consider using the drug to help alleviate a medical condition such as chronic pain.
"Anyone who could use medical marijuana to ease their suffering should be able to have it," said David Towns, a 68-year-old St. Petersburg resident who participated in the poll.
The support wasn't as strong for recreational marijuana use. Only 39 percent of respondents said they would support legalizing the drug for nonmedical purposes, a measure that's already been approved in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia
Joy Mayo, 59, was not one of them.
"I'm not in favor of that simply because I've seen too many stoned people," said Mayo, who is retired and lives in Clearwater. "It is different to me than someone under the influence of alcohol. . . . I don't want my grandchildren thinking that is okay."
Certain strains of marijuana that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, have been legal in Florida since 2014, when the Legislature passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe the drug to patients with epilepsy and advanced cancer.
But medical marijuana remains elusive in Florida.
That's partly because it took the state Health Department longer than expected to create rules for growing and distributing the drug. What's more, the process has been slowed by a string of legal challenges. Most recently, the nurseries that did not win licenses to grow the plant have raised questions about the selection process.
Medical marijuana's uncertain legal status has left people like Moriah Barnhart in limbo.
Barnhart, whose 5-year-old daughter Dahlia has brain cancer, is a member of CanaMoms, a group of mothers who believe medical marijuana products are helping their children beat diseases.
"I'm trying to balance not being arrested," Barnhart said. "And saving her life."
Even if the law was moving ahead as planned, some medical marijuana supporters believe it does not go far enough.
A group called United for Care, led by Orlando lawyer John Morgan, says it has collected the 680,000 signatures needed to put a more wide-ranging medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot.
A similar proposal to legalize all strands of medical marijuana — and let doctors decide when to prescribe it — fell just short of the required 60 percent approval threshold in 2014.
"Everyone knows we got 58 percent of the Florida vote in the last November election, and that was despite $6 million of negative TV ads the six weeks beforehand," United for Care director Ben Pollara said.
Pollara said he was not surprised by the results of the Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP poll.
"This is not — and has not been — a controversial issue for most Floridians," he said. "The polls have been consistent for the last two or three years. . . . People believe doctors should be able to recommend marijuana to patients, just like they are able to recommend OxyContin, Percocet, amoxicillin and everything else."
The poll results show an uptick in support from 2013, when 68 percent of voters in the Tampa Bay area said they would support an amendment legalizing medical marijuana. Current support for an amendment is at 74 percent, according to the latest poll.
The percentage of voters who would support legalizing marijuana for personal use also inched up from 31 to 39 percent.
Simone Reddick, a 39-year-old registered nurse from Riverview who participated in the poll, is in favor of both policies. She said marijuana can be more effective for cancer patients than the narcotics that are commonly prescribed.
"There are times when narcotic drugs make patients more loopy than relaxed," she said. "Not only does medical marijuana help people relax, it has other benefits, too. It increases appetite. It's a natural herb."
But not all voters are on board.
Pamela West, a hair dresser and real estate agent who lives in St. Petersburg, said the existing law already makes medical marijuana available to people who need it.
"It doesn't need to be expanded," she said.
She doesn't support legalizing the drug for recreational use, either.
"We know smoking is bad for you," the 60-year-old former smoker said. "Doctors want everyone to stop smoking tobacco cigarettes, so why would we allow this?"
Contact Kathleen McGrory at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.