Californians who intend to vote in November narrowly oppose Proposition 19, which would make the state the first to legalize marijuana possession and sales, according to a recent survey.
The Field Poll found that 48% of likely voters oppose the measure and 44% support it, a contrast with two polls taken in May that showed voters were leaning slightly in favor of the measure.
"History suggests that chances aren't good when you start out behind," said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the poll. But he said the results were close enough that the measure has a chance to win. "It depends on the quality of the campaign."
The poll found a very high level of awareness of the initiative with more than three-quarters of likely voters saying that they have heard about it. Those voters back it 48% to 44%. But likely voters who had not heard about the measure until they were told about it by the poll takers oppose it by 2 to 1.
The initiative would allow people 21 and older to possess, grow and transport marijuana for personal use, and would authorize cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial sales.
DiCamillo said he expected opponents to assert that the measure will lead to more crime and addiction, while proponents argue that it will bring in tax revenue in a time of endless budget crises. "That's where the tug of war is, societal impacts versus the financial benefits," he said.
Roger Salazar, the spokesman for Public Safety First, an opposition committee connected to law enforcement groups, said the poll shows voters are becoming more skeptical. "Any time you have an initiative written as confusingly as this one is, people aren't going to give it the benefit of the doubt," he said. "There's no certainty in terms of the revenues, there's no certainty of how this is going to impact law enforcement and public safety."
Dale Sky Clare, a spokeswoman for the Proposition 19 campaign, said the poll shows that the challenge will be to educate voters about the regulations the measure imposes and the tax revenues it could produce. "The folks that are familiar with the proposition itself, that have educated themselves on the proposition, find that they like it," she said. "This is going to be a nail-biter to the very end."
The Field Poll randomly surveyed 1,005 likely voters between June 22 and July 5, interviewing participants by telephone in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The poll found that while white voters support the measure, Latino, black and Asian American voters heavily oppose it. DiCamillo said he was surprised by the intensity of the opposition. "There just might be greater concerns within the ethnic community about the social effects," he said.
The Bay Area is the only region that supports the measure. Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the voters live, is split over it; San Diego and Orange counties oppose it.
Men are evenly divided, but women oppose it by 9 points.
Likely voters younger than 30 heavily support it. They are joined by likely voters between 50 and 64 who came of age during the Vietnam War. Likely voters who are 65 and older oppose it 57% to 33%.