Pa. voters' view on marijuana: Legalize it, dude

FMPOLL11
Jerome Waite, known by his spiritual name Rasfia, smokes marijuana during a rally to support legalization in Washington, D.C., last month. Waite was later arrested.

Pennsylvania voters have done a sharp about-face on marijuana, with a majority, 56 percent, now saying the drug should be legal, according to the latest Franklin and Marshall Poll, being released Thursday.

Just under two years ago, 54 percent of F&M poll respondents were opposed to legalizing pot, with 40 percent in favor. And when the college first asked about the issue in a 2006 poll, just 22 percent thought recreational pot use should be permitted.

“It’s a fast attitudinal change,” said pollster G. Terry Madonna. “There is a growing cultural acceptance of marijuana use. Maybe it’s inevitable.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have eliminated penalties for personal use and possession of small amounts of pot, while 19 states have decriminalized the drug by reducing punishments. A vigorous debate over fairness in the criminal justice system has also shifted attitudes toward marijuana, Madonna said. In addition, 29 states, including Pennsylvania, have legalized cannabis for medical use.

The finding was reminiscent of change in support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry, Madonna said. In May 2006 F&M poll, 33 percent of Pennsylvania registered voters either strongly or somewhat backed the right to same-sex marriage, but by January 2014, 56 percent did.

Other results of the poll:

President Trump’s job-approval numbers ticked up, with 37 percent of Pennsylvania registered voters saying he was doing an “excellent” or “good” job in the White House, up 5 points from the February poll. He is bolstered by overwhelming support among registered Republicans (67 percent) and voters describing themselves as conservative (76 percent). Geographically, Trump’s approval level is highest in Northeast and Southwest Pennsylvania, areas historically home to the white working class.

Interviews were completed before Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday night, but Madonna said he did not expect that move to hurt the president much among his base.

“Trump seems to have a lock on virtually 40 percent of the electorate: his core constituency of antiestablishment, white working-class voters with high school educations,” Madonna said.

Gov. Wolf’s job-approval stands at 41 percent, a substantial improvement over last year as he gears up for a reelection campaign. His ratings are similar to former Gov. Ed Rendell’s at the same point in his first term. In 2016, Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature were locked in a budget impasse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), who also is running for reelection next year, has a 38 percent job-approval rating in the poll.

A possible reason that the president, governor, and senator have middling approval ratings, according to Madonna: Half of respondents said the state was on the wrong track, and for the past several years, voters have named “politicians” and “government” when asked to name the top problem facing the state — ahead of jobs and the economy.

Poll results are based on telephone and online interviews with 639 registered Pennsylvania voters, conducted between May 1 and 7. Results are subject to a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

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