The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marylanders support longer summers and legal marijuana

Most Marylanders approve of Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to start school after Labor Day. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

The vast majority of Marylanders back Gov. Larry Hogan's recent order requiring public schools to extend summer recess through Labor Day, but far fewer share his support for fracking, according to a Washington ­Post-University of Maryland poll.

The survey, which covered a broad range of topics, also found that support for legalizing recreational marijuana use has risen sharply in Maryland over the past two years, as the state has begun licensing businesses to grow marijuana for medical purposes.

The poll shows that support for the school-start mandate remains strong even if ending summer recess after Labor Day could require some districts to trim other holidays, which school officials say is likely.

Almost three-quarters of Marylanders surveyed approve of the governor’s order, compared with 16 percent who disapprove.

Read the full poll results

Hogan (R) has said that extending summer vacation will benefit the state’s tourism industry, give families more time together and help boost the environment by cutting air-conditioning needs in public schools.

Opponents of Hogan’s order say it infringes on local control of the school calendar, even though school systems may apply to the state school board for waivers. Critics also say a longer summer break can increase learning loss, especially for poor children, and negatively affect preparation for standardized tests. Presented with some of those arguments, few poll respondents changed their position on the issue.

Among those who oppose Hogan’s policy, 82 percent said they were not dissuaded by the argument that the change would have economic benefits.

Similarly, 82 percent of Marylanders who indicated support for the mandate say they would still back the idea if it required cutting into holidays during the school year.

“I think kids have too many holidays now,” said Frederick County resident David Cloud, who strongly supported Hogan’s order and is a father of two elementary-school students. “It seems like they never go for a full two weeks at a time. There’s always something coming up with religious holidays or teacher work days or half-days. It’s just ridiculous.”

In terms of fracking, the pro­cess of pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to release natural gas, 6 in 10 Marylanders oppose the practice in the state, more than twice as many as who support it (27 percent). Support for the practice, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is down from 36 percent in a 2015 poll.

Two-thirds of Marylanders think fracking would pose significant risks to the environment, including 73 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans. Marylanders are more divided over whether the drilling technique could provide significant economic benefits for the state, with 43 percent saying it would, while 40 percent say it would not.

Here’s how Maryland wants to regulate fracking

Concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and earthquakes prompted the General Assembly to pass legislation in 2015 that prohibits the drilling technique until October 2017 and required the state to develop regulations for the industry. Last week, the Hogan administration proposed fracking guidelines that Maryland Environment Secretary Ben H. Grumbles called “the most stringent” in the nation.

Several Democratic lawmakers have said they will sponsor legislation next year to ban fracking, saying no safeguards can adequately protect the public and the environment from the practice.

Miriam Brewer, a Prince George’s County resident, said that she has many questions about the practice but that she is open to allowing it with strong regulations.

“Are we really going to be the winners, or is the environment going to be the loser?” she said. “I’m not all-out for a ban, but I think we need some assurances about the environment, and we need to use the best practices done in different areas.”

On the issue of marijuana, 61 percent of Marylanders said they favor legalization of small amounts for personal use, up from 49 percent in 2014. Support for recreational use of the drug increased by double digits across ideological lines, with 74 percent of liberals, 65 percent of moderates and 45 percent of conservatives now supporting legalization.

“I think this is a reflection of the fact that a lot of states and the District of Columbia have moved in the direction of legalization,” said Michael Hanmer, research director for the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship, which collaborated on the poll. “There’s a national trend toward support for small amounts of marijuana, and I don’t think Maryland is immune to that.”

Marijuana legalization is leading everywhere it’s on the ballot this fall

The state awarded preliminary licenses in August for more than 20 companies to grow and process medical cannabis. With the first crops expected to be available next year, 37 percent of Maryland adults in the poll say they or someone close to them would seek a medical recommendation for the drug.

“I know a lot of people who get tremendous benefit from it health-wise and with anxiety relief — it’s such a better option than alcohol,” said Nancy McFadden, an ­elementary-school teacher and Baltimore County resident.

One-fifth of Marylanders say they would seek medical permission to use the drug themselves.

The poll also asked about casino gambling, which Maryland legalized in 2008. By 47 percent to 27 percent, more residents continue to say the growth of casinos in the state has been good rather than bad for the state; about 3 in 10 report visiting one of the five casinos that are open.

Nearly 9 in 10 Marylanders surveyed say they would rarely or never go to the MGM National Harbor facility scheduled to open in Prince George's County on Dec. 8. Officials there say they expect more than 20,000 daily visitors, many of whom could come from neighboring Washington or Virginia.

The Washington Post­-University of Maryland poll was conducted Sept. 27 to 30 among a random sample of 906 Maryland adults reached on cellular and landline phones, in partnership with U-Md.’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for overall results.

Scott Clement and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.