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Majority of Md. voters favor legalizing recreational pot, Post-UMD poll finds

A majority of Maryland registered voters say they support legalizing recreational marijuana, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post)

A large majority of registered voters in Maryland say they support legalizing recreational marijuana use, just weeks before voters will decide the question in the November election, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

Just under 3 in 4, or 73 percent, of Maryland voters favor legalizing “the use of cannabis” for people 21 and older by next July, matching language on November’s ballot. Support for the idea is widespread, with majorities favoring it across regions, education levels, and racial, partisan and age groups. Legalizing marijuana is especially popular among young voters, with 87 percent of voters under 40 favoring legalization.

Read full Post-UMD poll results

“The thing that stood out to me is the high level of support and the diversity of support. Whether you look across party, region, almost every characteristic, you see majorities supporting this,” said Michael Hanmer, the director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, which co-sponsored the poll. “That’s been the trend across the country. People have really shifted their views across time on this issue, all pointing in the direction of being more supportive.”

Ernest Giordano said he never thought he’d see the day that so many states had legalized marijuana, but he supports the measure. The 64-year-old retiree in Silver Spring said he hasn’t smoked marijuana since his high school days but hopes to start buying it once it’s legal.

“Why not?” he said about legalization. “Let’s tax it and make some money off it.”

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If voters pass the measure — Question 4 on the ballot — Maryland would become the 20th state to legalize adult recreational use of the drug. D.C. voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in the city with a 2014 ballot initiative, and recreational marijuana was legalized in Virginia last year. Maryland already has a legal medicinal marijuana program, as do 36 other states and D.C.

Surveys have consistently shown that most Marylanders support legalizing marijuana, although support in the latest poll appears higher than other recent statewide polls have found. In 2019, a Post-UMD poll found that 66 percent of Maryland residents supported legalizing marijuana and using tax revenue from its sale for educational programs. A Goucher College poll in March found that 62 percent of Maryland residents supported legalizing recreational marijuana.

The Post-UMD poll asked registered voters the same question they will see on the Nov. 8 general election ballot: “Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1st, 2023, in the state of Maryland?”

By race, 77 percent of Black voters and 70 percent of White voters favor the proposal. The measure has strong support from wide majorities of independents (81 percent) and registered Democrats (78 percent), along with a narrow majority of registered Republicans (53 percent).

Brian Ridgeway, 62, a Republican in Churchton, in Anne Arundel County, said he does not support the use of marijuana, so he won’t be voting for the measure in November. Even so, he said, he supported decriminalizing the use of the drug.

“I don’t think it’s right to put them in prison for using,” Ridgeway said. “Maybe you do a fine, or something like that, but putting them in prison, and sometimes there’s some long sentences, it’s unnecessary, and I think it’s wrong.”

Maryland decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana in 2014 with the punishment of a $100 civil fine. Then, in 2017, the first medical dispensaries opened under the state’s medical marijuana program, which has generated more than $388 million in dispensary sales so far this year.

Support for legalization is widespread among the various regions in Maryland, with the strongest approval in Prince George’s County (80 percent of voters), Montgomery County (76 percent) and central Maryland and the Baltimore area (73 percent). Sixty-four percent of voters in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore support legalization.

By far those most enthusiastic about legalization are young voters. Almost 9 in 10 voters under age 40 said they support legalizing cannabis, compared with roughly 7 in 10 of those ages 40 to 64 and just over half of those 65 and older.

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Aaron Watson, 32, says he doesn’t often vote — but the prospect of buying marijuana legally in the state is helping motivate him to fill out his ballot this year.

“Weed was never bad; it was just always looked down upon because they made it look that way,” said Watson, who lives in Lothian, in Anne Arundel County. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s from the earth, it’s naturally grown, and I just kind of feel bad for the people who got in trouble before, because once it’s legalized, what do you do about the people who got felonies?”

The bill passed by the General Assembly that put the question on the ballot includes a companion bill that will allow people who were arrested for marijuana possession to have their records expunged, and others serving time for simple possession to have the opportunity to get their sentences reconsidered.

Although Watson says he plans to vote, he’s in the minority among younger voters: Under half of voters under 40 (48 percent) say they are certain to cast a ballot in November, compared with 82 percent of registered voters ages 65 and older. The expected high turnout of older voters — and their correspondingly lower support of marijuana legalization — could spell less support for the measure in election results.

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The lagging support among older voters might bring down the overall support for the marijuana initiative, but it could also become a factor to drive turnout among younger and generally less-engaged voters who don’t vote as frequently, which, Hanmer said, has the potential to translate into support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, who has performed well with young voters against his Republican opponent, Del. Dan Cox (Frederick).

“It’s one of those things that might get people who are younger and don’t have as much political experience and might be on the fence about voting to show up in a midterm election,” Hanmer said.

Camryn Jaziorowski, a 19-year-old student, said he feels more inclined to cast his first ballot in this year’s election because of the marijuana referendum.

“Legalizing it opens more opportunities for people who need care,” said Jaziorowski, who lives in Huntingtown, in Southern Maryland, and also said he uses medicinal marijuana.

Maryland appears set to join the growing number of states to have introduced legalization as a means to address the disparate effects of the war on drugs. An American Civil Liberties Union study found that between 2010 and 2018, Black people were arrested at 3.64 times the rate of White people nationally for having marijuana, even though Black and White people use marijuana at similar rates.

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Eddie Fields, 63, of Fort Washington, Md., said that although he wouldn’t plan to use the new legal market, he sees legalization as part of criminal justice reform and plans to support the ballot initiative in November. Fields, who is Black, said he’s also surprised to see so many states moving to legalize so quickly.

“Marijuana laws are just another way of oppressing Black people,” Fields said. “I never thought that would change.”

If the referendum passes, beginning next year, Marylanders over 21 will be able legally to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and grow two plants out of the public view. The state will conduct a study on the public health impact of marijuana and a disparities study to understand what might be needed to help women- and minority-owned businesses enter the industry.

The law also would create a cannabis business assistance fund; a cannabis public health fund to study topics including mitigating youth use and to pay for public health campaigns; and a community reinvestment and repair fund, requiring at least 30 percent of the revenue from adult-use cannabis to be reinvested in the communities historically most affected by marijuana prosecutions.

See Post-UMD poll crosstabs by group

The poll of 810 Maryland registered voters was conducted by telephone Sept. 22-27, with 79 percent reached on cellphone. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

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