SALT LAKE CITY — A new Deseret News poll shows 64 percent of likely Utah voters support Proposition 2, the state's medical marijuana legalization ballot initiative.
Thirty-three percent of respondents to the poll, conducted on behalf of the newspaper by ScottRasmussen.com/HarrisX, said they oppose Proposition 2.
Perhaps most noteworthy, just 3 percent said they were "not sure" whether they support or oppose the measure, indicating the vast majority of Utah voters are cognizant of the issue of medical marijuana legalization and have taken a position on the initiative.
“This is a polarizing topic causing people to break one way or the other. … Overall we see a hardening of opinions after exposure to information rather than uncertainty on the topic," said Cory Brown, vice president of custom research for HarrisX.
The findings also show 43 percent of respondents "strongly support" the initiative while 21 percent "somewhat support" it; 21 percent "strongly oppose" it and 12 percent "somewhat oppose" the ballot initiative.
The finding of overall support is identical to a Utah Policy poll conducted in August, in which 64 percent of respondents favored the initiative.
The support for Proposition 2 was strikingly consistent across several groups in the new Deseret News poll. For example:
• Support for the measure is equal among men and women — 65 percent among women and 64 percent among men.
• It doesn't seem to matter where people live. Among those in urban areas, 64 percent support the initiative, with 65 percent support among Utahns in the suburbs and 63 percent of rural residents.
• The results are similar in each of Utah's four congressional districts, with support numbers between 60 and 69 percent.
• Among those with at least four years of college, 57 percent support the measure compared to 64 percent of those without a high school degree.
• Results were relatively consistent across age generations, too, with millennials (at 62 percent in favor) slightly less likely to support Proposition 2 than both Generation X voters (69 percent) and those in the Baby Boomer generation or older (63 percent).
"Proposition 2 is a popular initiative," Brown said.
Some of the larger disparities were along political lines, as 86 percent of Democrats compared to 71 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans said they support Proposition 2.
Although conservatives were generally less likely to support the initiative, it still has traction among those who identify as a "strong conservative," who were split 49 percent to 49 percent on whether they favor it.
The poll found 94 percent of those who identify as a "strong liberal" favor Proposition 2.
However, respondents also expressed some anxiety over whether Proposition 2 could lead to recreational use of marijuana. They were asked, "To what extent are you concerned or not concerned about Proposition 2 paving the way for legalizing recreational marijuana use if it is enacted into law?" In response, 57 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned.
The survey also asked "if a doctor without any specialized training could provide a six-month medical marijuana card in a 15-minute office visit, to what extent does that make you more likely or less likely to support Proposition 2, or does it have no effect on your vote?" Forty-three percent said it would make them at least somewhat less likely to vote for it.
Another question asked was whether they agree with Proposition 2 advocates that "those suffering have suffered long enough and should have access to marijuana without waiting for the Legislature and governor to come together with a legislative solution." Sixty-one percent agreed with that sentiment.
Among religious groups, 56 percent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identify as "very active" agree with their church leaders' opposition to Proposition 2. Of all self-identified Latter-day Saint respondents, 53 percent support the initiative and 45 percent are opposed to it.
Sixty-nine percent of Utah Catholics favor Proposition 2, as do 77 percent of respondents who identify with another Christian faith and 88 percent of those who are atheistic or agnostic, the poll found.
After being asked whether or not they support Proposition 2, respondents were given another 10 questions about specific aspects of the measure, describing both criticisms and endorsements of it by various organizations that have weighed in on the issue.
Following those questions, asked in random order to different respondents, they were asked again whether they support or oppose Proposition 2, at which point 57 percent said they favored it and 40 percent were against it — representing a 14 percentage point shrink in its advantage. After those questions, 3 percent again said they were unsure whether they support it.
Effect on debate
The poll questioned 1,087 likely Utah voters and was conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.97 percentage points.
On Oct. 2, the Deseret News first reported that the Utah Patients Coalition, which is the campaign that gathered the signatures to get Proposition 2 on the ballot, and some of the initiative's most vocal critics such as the Utah Medical Association, had agreed to a written compromise bill after private talks with state legislative leaders.
Those groups, along with state leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes Proposition 2, formally announced that agreement Oct. 4.
Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said last week that they plan to do everything in their power to secure the passage of the compromise bill in a special session expected to be called by Gov. Gary Herbert after Election Day in November.
Herbert said he and legislative leaders will see to it that the compromise gets passed by state lawmakers regardless of whether or not Utah voters pass Proposition 2.
The Church of Jesus Christ, Utah Medical Association and Utah Patients Coalition all said they would de-escalate their campaign efforts on the ballot initiative, though they each maintained that their position about whether it should pass has not changed.
The news that those groups had agreed on a compromise bill did not materially affect Utahns' support of Proposition 2 itself, according to Brown.
"We just did not see any significant shifts in opinion," he told the Deseret News.
Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, said she anticipates the pressure from some national marijuana advocacy groups will build on Utah legislators if Proposition 2 passes to leave it as is, which is why her group would still like to see it defeated at the ballot box, despite the mutual agreement with initiative supporters not to campaign.
"We've seen in other states where you've had a ballot initiative passed they've come in and really pushed and pushed and said, 'This is the will of the people' … and they've really put a lot of pressures on legislators," McOmber said. "There are enormous pressures when something goes through on a ballot initiative, and that's a concern, and that's why we still say … we don't want to see Proposition 2 pass because of that."
Walter Plumb, president of anti-Proposition 2 group Drug Safe Utah, said he has "real confidence" in Utah legislators that if the initiative passes, the Legislature will "do the right thing" even amid potential pressure to leave the measure largely untouched.
But Plumb, who unlike other Proposition 2 opponents voiced some dissatisfaction with some of the compromises made in the agreement announced last week, is still holding out hope the measure will fail despite the consistently strong polling.
"Usually things narrow toward the end. … I think in the end voters are going to show up and see through these guys," Plumb said.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition campaign that got Proposition 2 on the ballot in the first place, said the new poll's findings are not surprising because "the level of support has always been pretty consistent." Passing the measure, he said, will go a long way in holding Utah lawmakers accountable to keeping the promises made in the agreement.
If voters pass Proposition 2, "it sends a clear message that the public wants a workable medical cannabis program," Schanz said.
Schanz also said the most recent round of strong polling does not leave him with any regrets agreeing to a compromise bill with Proposition 2's opponents.
"The Legislature had every intention of changing Proposition 2 upon passage," he said. "Our numbers have always been strong. We just feel this agreement is best for the long term access to cannabis for patients."
Marty Stephens, director of community and government relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he can see how "some people may say, ‘Well, we can go ahead and vote for this now because there's a compromise and it doesn't matter," but he disagrees.70 comments on this story
"At least one legislator … said to me, ‘Well, wait a minute, if this initiative passes, and that's the vote of the people … I'm going to have a hard time voting for the compromise, even though I know it's better policy, because I hate to go against the vote of the people in my district,'" Stephens said.
"So if the people want this compromise without the kind of complications that will come with the passage of the initiative and then trying to get the compromise passed afterwards … I think the wise thing to do is to vote down poor public policy, which is the initiative."