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Polls: Prop 19/Marijuana
Proposal Now a Toss-up

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                                      ©2010 Baptist Press

A string of new polls indicates a California initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana is now a toss-up, just as both sides air their first ads.

For months, the high-profile Proposition 19 race has been a surprisingly low-money race, with California's gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races apparently swallowing most potential donations. But the Los Angeles Times reports the Yes on 19 campaign is putting up its first ad Tuesday (October 20) on Los Angeles cable stations in a $170,000 buy, while the California Chamber of Commerce is spending $250,000 in radio ads that first aired October 15 encouraging voters to oppose the proposal, which if passed would make California the first state to legalize the growth, sale, and recreational use of marijuana. Individuals would be able to grow their own marijuana in an area not larger than 25 square feet and possess up to one ounce of it. Local governments would be able to tax it; the state would not collect any money.

"Imagine coming out of surgery, and the nurse caring for you was high, or having to work harder on your job to make up for a coworker who shows up high on pot," the radio ad states. "It could happen in California if Proposition 19 passes.... Employees would be allowed to come to work high, and employers would be unable to punish an employee for being high until after a workplace accident."

Neither ad buy is significant when compared to the millions spent in a typical political campaign media blitz, but it does show each side views the race as winnable.

The No on Prop 19 side trailed for most of the race but leads in two of three new polls:
  • A Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll of 1,067 likely voters Oct. 10-17 showed Prop 19 losing, 49-44 percent, with 7 percent undecided.
  • A Los Angeles Times/USC Poll of 441 likely voters Oct. 13-20 had Prop 19 losing, 51-39 percent.
  • A SurveyUSA poll of 621 likely voters Oct. 15-18 showed Prop 19 winning, 48-44 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
It is anyone's guess as to which poll is correct, but the fact that opponents of Proposition 19 have a legitimate chance of defeating the proposal is a change from September, when every poll had Prop 19 ahead. A PPIC poll last month showed Prop 19 winning, 52-41 percent.

Gauging likely voter turnout on Prop 19 is tricky because it could bring out voters who never go to the polls and who normally would be screened out of most polling organization's likely voter models.

"There are good reasons to think the polls could either be overestimating or underestimating Proposition 19’s support," wrote Nate Silver of the polling analysis website "In spite of the recent trends against Proposition 19, therefore, I would be inclined to take the recent polling at face value, which suggests that the measure has about even odds of passing."  

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