Poll Position

We have to wait three more months before we know for sure whether the legalization of marijuana will make it onto the ballot in November 2020, but we already know where the voters stand on the matter. Every poll taken so far has shown that popular support far exceeds the level needed for passage—and by a wide margin. Recent polling by UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) reinforces what we already knew about the subject. The lab was founded back in 2001, but its stock has risen rapidly within the ranks of statewide polling operations over the last couple of years.

Coordinator Mark Cooper is one of four full-time staffers, who are aided and abetted by upwards of 100 part-time employees. “UNF student employees conduct the lab’s phone research and data collection,” he says. “I believe working in the lab is a great opportunity for students to gain valuable real-world experience and for them to make extra income.”

In a March poll, with a sample size of 665 registered Duval County voters (not 666, as other outlets have claimed, although that would be funny), 87 percent of respondents supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to allow medical patients to smoke the stuff, and 62 percent supported full decriminalization. The legalization number edged up slightly, to 64 percent, in the PORL’s October poll. In both cases, the gap in approval between Democrats and Republicans was fairly wide (about 20 points), but the majority within both parties approved the idea. This speaks to the unprecedented bipartisan consensus that has emerged on the issue, which is almost the polar opposite of the wisdom that prevailed for decades.

The PORL numbers were not reflected in the City Council vote that rejected Garrett Dennis’ bill to decriminalize a few weeks ago. Dr. Mike Binder, who’s been running the PORL since 2013, is not surprised. “Often times elected officials trail public opinion,” he says, “especially when it comes to issues that have changed relatively quickly. Decriminalization is one of those issues that 10 years ago was not nearly as popular.” As previously noted in this very column, that City Council vote was more a reflection of personal disputes within city government than the popular will, so one can expect the matter to be revisited sometime next year.

Some of the PORL’s work has drawn a little heat, in particular a recent presidential preference poll that got the Bernie bros even saltier and more obnoxious than they already are pretty much all the time, but the cannabis polls have been uncontroversial. “Marijuana has become part of civilized society,” says Binder. “With legalization happening in several states, medicinal being legal here and even the potential ballot measure for legalization in Florida, folks are used to it by now.”

The PORL numbers are fairly similar to other studies taken elsewhere in the state. A survey done in August by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates had the same result: 67 percent favorable. Likewise, a poll taken in June by Quinnipiac University returned a 65 percent favorable result. So, with two-thirds of Florida voters staying consistent in their support for legalization throughout the year, public opinion is clear, and legalization seems inevitable if activists can get the measure onto the ballot. But that remains a very big if.