A narrow majority of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana, and more than eight in 10 say the consequences for possessing small amounts of the drug should be fines or rehabilitation rather than jail time, according to a new poll.
The Goucher Poll also found that nine out of 10 citizens support use of marijuana for medical purposes, if prescribed by a doctor.
Based on the poll findings, decriminalization of marijuana “will be an issue to watch” in the upcoming legislative session, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher University.
During this year’s legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill authorizing distribution of marijuana for medical purposes by qualified academic centers. Legislative analysts have said it is unlikely the drug would be legally dispensed before 2016, and it remains unclear how many institutions will participate.
A separate bill passed the Senate this year that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, subjecting those caught to only a civil fine of up to $100. That legislation died in the House of Delegates. Supporters have vowed to try again when lawmakers reconvene in January.
The Goucher poll found that 51 percent of Marylanders support making marijuana use legal in the state, while 40 percent oppose legalization.
When presented with a list of consequences for possessing small amounts of marijuana, 49 percent of residents supported policies that focus on fines, while 34 percent said they favor rehabilitation. Six percent said they prefer measures that focus on jail time.
Meanwhile, 90 percent support the use of marijuana for medical purposes, according to the poll.
The same poll also found that a year after Maryland voted to legalize same-sex marriage, more than seven in 10 citizens say gay nuptials have changed society for the better or had no effect.
The Goucher poll found that 28 percent believe same-sex marriage has changed Maryland society for the better, while 44 percent believe it has had no effect. Twenty-three percent said allowing gay couples to wed had changed Maryland society for the worse. Another 5 percent didn’t know or refused to answer.
The poll was conducted nearly a year after Maryland voters approved a ballot measure, 52 percent to 48 percent, upholding a same-sex marriage law passed by the legislature last year. Gay couples have been allowed to get married in Maryland since Jan. 1.
The Goucher poll also found Marylanders are divided in their opinions about a new gun-control law that took effect Oct. 1.
Twenty-seven percent of Marylanders think provisions in the new gun law are “too strict,” while 32 percent think they are “not strict enough,” according to the poll. Another 23 percent think they are now “about right.”
Maryland’s law includes new fingerprinting and training requirements. The law, championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December, also bans 45 types of assault rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and includes steps intended to make it harder for those who are mentally ill to obtain firearms.
The Goucher poll of 665 Maryland residents was said to be conducted Oct. 27-31. The sample did not restrict respondents to registered or likely voters. The margin of error was said to be plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.