Medical marijuana advocates released a poll Monday they said shows overwhelming support — by a 2-to-1 margin — for licensing and regulating cannabis dispensaries popping up across Colorado.
The poll comes as lawmakers are drafting legislation to regulate the burgeoning industry, a response to legal developments that have left local governments and medical marijuana dispensaries seeking clarity.
"There's vast public support for responsibly regulated medical marijuana," said Matt Brown, executive director of Coloradoans for Medical Marijuana Regulation, a coalition of dispensaries and growers that helped sponsor the poll.
However, Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican who has opposed medical marijuana as violating federal law, made little of the poll results.
"It's easy to say in a vacuum that voters support the type of medical marijuana distribution system that the dispensary owners advocate, but the devil is in the details," Suthers said. "Once the voters understand the full extent that the current system is being abused to allow healthy young people to procure marijuana, they will be much less likely to support it."
The telephone poll of 500 likely Colorado voters asked just one question regarding medical marijuana.
In the survey, which had a margin of error of 4.38 percent, respondents were first told there were "some proposals that voters might be voting on in the election next November."
Then they were presented with a three-part proposal that included establishing state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, allowing communities to limit the number of dispensaries and subject them to zoning, and requiring patients to register with the state while setting limits on the amount of marijuana they can buy.
Finally, they were asked if they would vote yes or no on the proposal.
In fact, medical marijuana advocates said, there is no effort to place any ballot measure before voters in 2010, and the question was merely an attempt to gauge public sentiment around the issue.
Still, 64 percent of respondents said "yes" to the proposal, with 34 percent saying they would be a "strong yes."
A majority of Coloradans supported the idea regardless of party affiliation, with 53 percent of Republicans in favor, 75 percent of Democrats in favor and 64 percent of independents in favor.
And a majority of those in all age groups supported the proposal, with the highest support — 71 percent — from those under 35. White voters favored the proposal more than non-whites, and among regions, support was highest in the metro Denver area.
Ken Bickers, a political scientist at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said it was unclear from the poll exactly what voters are supporting.
"It (the proposal) has got three different aspects to it, and there's enough there that people could agree with anyone one of those and disagree with others. It's not clear what that 64 percent is referring to."
Bickers also noted the poll did not begin by asking respondents whether they supported medical marijuana and didn't offer them the option of prohibiting dispensaries.
"What's dangerous is for politicians to read that (poll) as something that's really telling them where the public is on an issue as important as medical marijuana," he said.
Medical marijuana advocates said that since voters in 2000 had passed Amendment 20, which said that people with certain medical conditions could legally obtain marijuana, it was unnecessary to ask respondents if they supported it.
December 1, 2009