Poll: Nearly half of Marylanders back legalizing pot; 43 percent are opposed

Just under half of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana, while 43 percent are opposed, a new Washington Post poll found.

Those who oppose legalization are evenly split on whether the state should reduce punishments for possession of small amounts of the drug.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering several measures that would either ease access to medical marijuana, legalize marijuana by taxing and regulating it like alcohol, or decriminalize it by imposing civil fines for possession of small amounts. Two states — Colorado and Washington — recently legalized pot, and national polls suggest growing support for legalization.

Three candidates for Maryland governor have acknowledged trying marijuana years ago.

The Post poll found that 49 percent of Marylanders favor legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while 43 percent are opposed and 7 percent have no opinion. Those opposed to legalization split evenly — 48 percent apiece — on decriminalizing the drug.

The poll finds a striking divergence in views among different regions of the state and segments of its population.

Men favor legalization 53 percent to 39 percent, while women split nearly down the middle, 46 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed. African Americans are also closely divided (49 percent support legalization and 46 percent oppose), while whites back legalization by a 13-point margin. Just over half of Democrats and independents support legalizing the drug, while nearly six in 10 Republicans do not.

There are generational splits, too, with older people as lopsidedly against legalizing pot as young people are for it. The poll found people 18 to 29 years old support legalization, 57 percent to 34 percent, while those 65 or older are opposed, 65 percent to 30 percent. There was no great variation among income levels, however.

Around the state, the poll found that majorities in Baltimore City (58 percent), Baltimore County (52 percent) and Montgomery County (53 percent) favor legalization, while those in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard counties are more divided.

Linda Redding, an accountant who is in her 50s and lives in Nanjemoy, said it was time to end a war on marijuana that never made sense in the first place.

“I think it should be decriminalized because there are many, many pharmaceuticals that are much more harmful, with many more side effects, that are abused,” Redding said. She said legalization would undercut the power of violent traffickers in illegal drugs, and it could reap an economic windfall as law enforcement refocused on more serious crimes and states collected tax revenues from the legal sale and use of pot.

But Jonathan Kronheim, 59, an attorney who works for the federal government and lives in Silver Spring, said legalization would send the wrong message, especially to young people.

“I have four kids — they range in age from 16 to 22 — and, you know, I don’t want them to smoke,” Kronheim said. “We are very much a drug culture as is, and I’m very leery of adding to that culture by making a drug that’s not legal, legal.”

Veida Dehmlow , who lives in Bethesda and narrates recorded books, said she worries that legalization could create problems by making a gateway drug more accessible.

“It’s sort of a Pandora’s box in my mind,” Dehmlow said.

At the same time, she said, decriminalization makes sense because the current penalties are too harsh and have resulted in too many people being locked up.

The poll was conducted Feb. 13-16 among a random sample of 1,002 residents statewide on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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