A new poll in Alaska suggests legalization could pass by a wide margin Nov. 4.

alaska_state_marijuanaVoters there will decide whether to legalize possession, sale, and cultivation of marijuana. Recent polls have mostly showed a tight race, with at least one showing the initiative failing.

But the new poll casts those findings into doubt. The survey, conducted by a local pollster, shows likely “yes” votes leading likely “no” votes by 18 percentage points. That’s a huge turnaround from other polls.

Some observers believe the new poll measures real public opinion better than the other surveys because it’s the first to use the actual wording of the cannabis ballot item:

“There is an initiative on the General election ballot that would tax and regulate the production, sale, and use of marijuana in Alaska. Criminal penalties would be removed for adults over the age of 21 who possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and constitutional protections allowing home cultivation would be preserved.”

And observers point out the fact that the polls showing the initiative losing, including a highly publicized August survey by Public Policy Polling, failed to query cell phone users, a major demographic in the contest.

Overall, 57.2 percent of likely voters in Alaska said they planned to vote for the initiative, while 38.7 percent said they’d vote against it. Just 50 percent is required to make the proposal law.

Marijuana proponents aren’t swallowing the 18-point lead whole, though. Taylor Bickford, the leader of the legalization campaign, said the results seem overly optimistic. Past internal polls have the measure up by a much slimmer margin, he said.

Still, the poll is evidence that anything could happen.

Marijuana JointCannabis possession is already essentially legal in Alaska by court decree. The legislature has outlawed the drug, but prosecutions remain rare. And the state has one of the most libertarian populations in the United States, making it a potentially ideal place for reform.

But no one is declaring victory yet, and the race could go down to the wire. If Alaska legalizes, it would become just the third state to do so, after Washington and Colorado – joined, hopefully, by Oregon. That state is considering a similar, if more liberal, reform measure.

The loss of both states could mark a major setback for the legalization movement, so activists plan to push their campaign until Election Day. But the new poll at least offers signs of hope.

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