Originally Published: November 23, 2017 6:01 a.m.
PHOENIX — Don’t look for Arizonans to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, at least not in the immediate future.
A new statewide poll of those likely to vote in next year’s election finds just 35 percent said they would support a measure for the personal use of the drug. By contrast, 48 percent of the 600 people who were questioned in the automated telephone poll said they were opposed, with the rest undecided.
What makes that significant is that Proposition 205, a legalization measure on the 2016 ballot, failed by just three percentage points.
Michael Noble, managing partner of the political consulting firm OH Predictive Strategies, which did the survey earlier this month, said the results are not a surprise.
Part of that relates to the fact that his automated calls went only to those with landline phones. That, he said, skews the results a bit toward older voters who are more conservative.
But Noble said there’s another factor at work: The respondents were all people who said they intend to vote next year. And he said that, in general, off-year elections — those without a presidential candidate on the ballot — tend to attract older and more conservative voters.
“They’ll probably take another run at it in 2020,” Noble said.
Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that’s yet to be decided. But Fox, whose group was behind the successful 2010 initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, agreed with Noble on the basic premise of why 2018 is a good year to stay off the ballot.
“The demographic groups that are least likely to support marijuana legalization ... are older Americans and people that are socially conservative,” he said. “Those are groups that are much more heavily represented during midterm elections traditionally.”
And Fox said similar initiatives have tended to fare “much worse” in these off-year elections.
“Presidential elections bring out a lot of younger voters who are much more comfortable with the idea of regulating marijuana like alcohol,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced that pushing a legalization measure next year is an exercise in futility.
A group called Safer Arizona already has started a drive to put the issue on the 2018 ballot. Organizers need 150,642 valid signatures by next July 5 to qualify.
David Wisniewski, the group’s executive director, said he’s not buying the contention about off-year elections.
“That’s just a fake argument to discourage people from trying,” he said. And Wisniewski pointed out that the state’s medical marijuana law was itself approved, albeit narrowly, in 2010 which was one of those off-year elections.
Anyway, he said, the controversy around Donald Trump should generate wider interest than normal in a midyear election, with voters opposed to the president and his policies coming out to vent their frustration by voting against Trump-backed candidates.
But all that may be immaterial if voters don’t ever get the chance to weigh in next year. The problem is that Safer Arizona is trying to make the ballot strictly with volunteers.
“At the rate we’re going, it doesn’t look like we’re going to hit our goal,” Wisniewski said. “But we’re not giving up and we’re going to collect to the very last day, as of now.”