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Poll: Arizonans favor recreational pot measure by wide margin

If a proposed citizen initiative to legalize recreational marijuana makes it onto the ballot, it appears likely to cruise to an easy victory, according to a new poll that showed overwhelming support across party lines.

The live-caller poll by the lobbying and consulting firm HighGround showed 65% of respondents saying they'd vote in favor of the measure, with just 25% saying they'd oppose it. The most strident opinions are also in favor of the measure: 47% said they would definitely vote yes compared to 19% who said they would definitely vote against it.

Only about 9% said they didn't know how they would vote or refused to answer.

Respondents were provided with a detailed description of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. The pollster informed respondents that recreational marijuana would be taxed at 16%, with revenue being used to fund community colleges, public safety, public health programs and infrastructure. It also emphasized that the measure would prohibit the sale of marijuana-based candy that looks like children's candy, such as gummy bears and gummy worms.

Support was higher among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. But the poll found a majority in support among all three groups.

Although Republican elected officials have been among the loudest voices opposing marijuana legalization, 56% of Republican respondents said they would definitely or probably vote for the initiative, compared to 36% who would definitely or probably oppose it. About 70 % of both Democrats and independents said they would definitely or probably vote for the initiative.

And older voters also expressed support, "despite reservations that these audiences have indicated in the past," pollster Paul Bentz found. Support was at 63% among voters aged 50-64, and 55% among voters 65 and older.

The only demographic group in which a majority did not support marijuana legalization was those who described their political views as "very conservative," and even in that group support was around 47%.

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Bentz said the only hope that opponents have of defeating recreational marijuana this year is likely to be a legal challenge that keeps it off the ballot.

"As long as Smart and Safe Arizona can qualify for the ballot, all signs point to 2020 being the year that recreational marijuana finally becomes legal in Arizona," Bentz said in his polling memo.

A 2016 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana narrowly failed, with just over 51% opposing it and nearly 49% voting in favor.

The Smart and Safe Arizona Act is one of several citizen initiatives that is still seeking to qualify for the ballot. Organizers need to collect 237,654 valid signatures by July 2. The campaign said last month that it is close to reaching its goal.

Stacy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act campaign, called the poll "encouraging." She said the campaign hasn't conducted any polls since December, but that poll showed double-digit support for the measure, and that many voters who opposed the 2016 initiative plan to vote for the more recent iteration.

Pearson said the campaign expects to submit about 400,000 signatures for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act.

"It will qualify, and it's inevitable that Arizonans will legalize adult-use marijuana," Pearson said.

Lisa James, of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, the campaign against marijuana legalization, said the wording of the poll question likely contributed to the high support for the proposed initiative.

"It's not surprising when you read the question. I'm surprised they don't say they're going to save all the puppies too," James said. "This is a very one-sided question with a little bit of something to everybody about what all this revenue is going to do, and neglecting to mention the cost."

James emphasized that it's early in the campaign and said she expects support for the initiative to drop once voters learn more about the costs and other problems associated with recreational marijuana legalization. She said Colorado, for example, has seen increased costs for things like health care and road safety that outweigh the revenue generated by marijuana.

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HighGround surveyed 400 voters via live-caller poll. Thirty-eight percent of the respondents were Republicans, 34% were Democrats and 28% were independents or others. That turnout would represent a good year for Democrats, who typically make up 31-33 percent of the electorate. Republicans have only made up less than 40 percent of the electorate once in the past seven general elections, when they represented about 39 percent of ballots cast in 2016.

Bentz said his turnout model is based on observations from the "blue wave" election of 2018 and other data that indicate high Democratic turnout in this year's general election.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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A 2016 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana narrowly failed, with just over 51% opposing it and nearly 49% voting in favor.