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New MCAP poll shows Pennsylvanians split on legalization of marijuana

Friday, February 28, 2014

Pennsylvanians are divided on the question of legalizing marijuana for all adults, with 48 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed, according to the results of a new public opinion poll by the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP). At 85 percent, however, Pennsylvania residents are united in sanctioning the medical use of marijuana. A solid majority – 59 percent – favors decriminalizing possession of the drug.

“Our findings suggest that the position of Pennsylvanians on the legalization of marijuana is largely consistent with the nation as a whole,” said MCAP Director Joseph Morris, D.A., whose poll surveyed 495 residents across the state in a random sampling taken Feb. 17-24 with a margin of error of +/-4.4 percent.

When questioned about Pennsylvania’s approach to regulating marijuana, voters indicate they are looking for a change. When asked to choose their most preferred policy from a list that included making laws harsher, keeping laws the same, legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, legalizing the drug for all adults, and decriminalizing its use, a plurality of votes (33 percent) say they favor allowing the use of marijuana by patients with a doctor’s prescription and 31 percent say they prefer making use of the drug legal for all adults. Fifteen percent prefer decriminalization of marijuana use, and only a small fraction says laws pertaining to marijuana should be kept the same (8 percent) or made harsher (7 percent).

In spite of Pennsylvania voters’ preference for changing the state’s approach to regulating marijuana, a plurality (43 percent) sees marijuana as a gateway drug; a majority (54 percent) says it’s addictive. A sizeable majority (78 percent) says that legalizing and taxing marijuana would generate a significant amount of money for the state. As opposed to using cocaine, which a strong majority of voters (76 percent) says is morally wrong, a majority (58 percent) says that using marijuana is not morally wrong.

A plurality of Pennsylvania voters (44 percent) disapproves of the job Tom Corbett is doing as governor. When asked for whom they would vote if the election for governor was held today, a plurality (49 percent) say they would vote for an unnamed candidate from the Democratic Party (compared to 40 percent in October 2013). In terms of the marijuana debate’s impact on Pennsylvania’s 2014 gubernatorial election, pluralities of voters say candidates’ positions on legalization or decriminalization of marijuana will have no impact on their support of a candidate. However, 43 percent of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favored legalizing the medical use of marijuana (compared to only 25 percent for legalizing the drug for all adults and 27 percent for decriminalization).

MCAP is the only independent, nonpartisan research organization in northwest Pennsylvania that aims to regularly conduct public opinion polls on issues of regional, state and national concern. Morris is supported by Rolfe Peterson, associate director and methodologist. To view the complete poll, visit the MCAP website.