Massachusetts voters could legalize marijuana for recreational use in November, but a new poll suggests they haven’t quite made up their minds on the matter.
The poll, released by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe in early May, found just 43 percent of likely Massachusetts voters would cast a yes ballot for full cannabis legalization, while a slightly larger group, nearly 46 percent, said they plan to vote no.
Another 11 percent told pollsters they were undecided – a group whose ultimate decision will determine the outcome of the ballot initiative. The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. That’s relatively wide as reliable polling goes, but close enough to suggest public opinion on the issue is essentially tied.
Subtle shifts in the numbers could spell trouble for marijuana reformers, however. Leading politicians, including Gov. Charlie Barker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, have thrown their weight behind the anti-legalization campaign, joining an effort that seeks to stop reform from reaching the East Coast.
Support for legalization seemingly decreasing
Those efforts may be paying off. A 2014 poll found 48 percent support for legalization, compared to opposition of 47 percent. Later polls showed support topping 50 percent. That means the numbers in the most recent poll have moved slightly against reformers.
Four states currently allow legal marijuana for any use: Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon. The District of Columbia has also legalized the drug for both medical and recreational use. Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island could all vote to legalize in November, though Maine is the best bet for pro-cannabis advocates.
The Vermont Legislature voted in May to kill legalization plans there, preventing reform from reaching New England and blocking efforts to make that state the first in the nation to legalize by way of lawmakers rather than public referendum.
The new poll in Massachusetts spelled even more trouble for activists who believe adults should be allowed to grow their own marijuana plants at home: Roughly 40 percent agreed, while 50 percent disagreed and almost 10 percent said they remain undecided.
Cannabis is safer than alcohol
Supporters of legalization say it’s hypocritical of the state to tax and regulate alcohol – a far more dangerous drug – while outlawing marijuana completely. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that full legalization could put pot in the hands of minors and increase the surging opioid epidemic. Well-funded science has repeatedly disproved both claims.
In fact, legalization in other states is tied to a decline in the number of teens who smoke cannabis. And far from causing opioid addiction, marijuana is likely an effective tool in fighting it. Studies have shown that pot smokers are less likely to become addicted to the opioid medications they use to treat chronic pain.
The Massachusetts poll was conducted from May 2 to May 5 and included responses from likely voters across the state.