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  1. Florida Politics

Times poll: Many voters still unsure about medical marijuana amendment

Medical Marijuana [iStockphoto.com]
Published Sep. 4, 2014

Though early polling showed overwhelming support for medical marijuana in Florida, a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll indicates that many likely voters are still unsure about a constitutional amendment that would allow it.

"It's not the slam dunk that previous polls suggested,'' said Dr. Christopher McCarty, director of the UF Survey Research Center and director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "There are still a lot of people who don't know about it, haven't thought about it or haven't made up their minds.''

Florida's proposed Amendment 2 — which goes to a vote Nov. 4 — would let people use marijuana for debilitating illnesses with a doctor's consent.

Asked a question phrased directly from the ballot, 56.7 percent of likely voters said they support the amendment, with 24.4 percent opposing.

That left more than one voter in six surveyed who said they had not thought much about the amendment one way or another.

The telephone survey of 814 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the November election — was conducted Aug. 27-31 for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and News 13 of Orlando by the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Service and Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The poll, which included respondents using landlines and cellphones, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Results were weighted by age, party identification and media market, thus allowing the results to mirror the distribution of age groups, party identification and media market in the Florida Voter File.

Florida requires a 60 percent majority to pass a constitutional amendment. Most previous polls have shown support running well above that. Quinnipiac reported 88 percent support in July, though the question in that poll inaccurately portrayed how Florida's system would work.

United for Care, the amendment sponsor, conducted a poll in June, reading the entire ballot summary to 900 likely voters. That poll showed 70 percent for the amendment and 28 percent against.

Those and other polls gave people two choices — for or against.

The Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll offered three options: For, against and "haven't thought much about this."

That wrinkle revealed a larger pool of uncommitted people than previous polls had shown — uncertainty that grew as people considered the actual ballot language.

When voters were asked how they felt about medical marijuana in general, 58.3 percent favored it, 30.3 percent opposed and 8.7 percent said they had not thought about it.

Then pollsters read from the actual ballot, asking about allowing "the use of marijuana … as determined by a licensed Florida physician.''

Those in favor dipped only slightly, to 56.7 percent. But opposition dropped from 30 percent to 24.4 percent. On the ballot language, 17 percent said they had not thought about it.

"I think Floridians were aware of the debate over medical marijuana use,'' said David Colburn, interim director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. "I'm not sure as many were as aware that it was on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.''

Identifying the characteristics of the uncommitted voters is difficult because the margin of error rises considering smaller groups within the poll.

But in general, Democrats, African-Americans and people over age 60 appeared to be the least sure of their stance. Republicans and people between 25 and 59 appeared most likely to have made up their minds.

"I've read enough stories about cancer treatment and all the things they're going through … how having the marijuana settles their stomachs and they can gain weight,'' said Fort Myers resident Douglas Dea, 47, an independent who supports Amendment 2. "Denying them would be like kicking a man when he's down.''

Cheryl Chipoco, a Republican from Palm Beach Gardens, strongly opposes the amendment.

"It displays the wrong image of doing drugs to teenagers,'' Chipoco, 53, said.

Though the amendment requires the state to set up regulations regarding exactly how marijuana will be dispensed, "there's no way to control it,'' Chipoco said. "You're going to have teenagers and middle-schoolers getting marijuana on the streets, tainted with much higher THC than in the '60s and '70s.''

The amendment had more supporters than opponents in all subcategories of voters. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to favor the amendment. People under 60 like it better than people over 60.

The strongest support came among voters aged 25 to 59, which is also the age group mostly like to register for medical marijuana in states that keep statistics.

About 35 percent of those surveyed were identified as Republicans, 30 percent as Democrats and nearly 26 percent as independents. While Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans, Republicans tend to have considerably higher turnout in off-year elections.

Times staff writers Weston Phippen and Linda Qiu contributed to this report. Contact Stephen Nohlgren at nohlgren@tampabay.com.

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