Illinois residents might not be all that high on legalizing recreational marijuana.
Only two out of five voters support allowing the production, use and sale of marijuana, according to a poll paid for by a group that is opposed to lifting the state’s pot prohibition.
Nearly a third of Illinoisans polled want the current pot laws to remain unchanged, while some people favor keeping marijuana illegal but allowing for expungement of past misdemeanor convictions.
And there’s not a lot of variation across demographic groups, although women, Democrats, suburbanites and voters under 50 were most enthusiastic about a more mellow approach to weed.
As Gov. J.B. Pritzker and lawmakers make their final push for legalization before the Legislature adjourns at the end of May, the poll commissioned by Smart Approaches to Marijuana found 41% support legalization. The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, was conducted May 6 through May 7. A total of 625 registered Illinois voters were interviewed statewide via telephone.
Respondents were asked a series of questions about marijuana policies in the state, including whether the production, use and sale of pot for recreational use should become legal. Forty-one percent of those polled said they supported legalization. The poll broke down that favorability rating by region, sex, age, race and political party.
The collar counties had the highest approval rating, where 44% wanted to legalize. In Cook County, 41% supported legalization. And in Downstate Illinois, 38% supported legalization. More women than men supported legalization, with 43% of women and 38% of men in favor.
Just under half (47%) of those under 50 favored legalization, while a little over a third (36%) of those over 50 supported it. Both Democrats and independents were more likely to favor legalization than Republicans. The favorability was almost evenly split between white and African-American respondents, with 41% of white voters saying they support it, and 44% of black voters saying they support it. But there were more white respondents polled than African American — 74% to 16%.
The favorability rating is down from a poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted in March by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. In that poll, the highest level of support for legalizing marijuana came from Chicago, where 75% favored it, and 24% were opposed. Statewide, 66% of respondents favored or strongly favored legalization, while 32% opposed it, the Simon institute poll found.
Pritzker and many Democratic lawmakers are making a major play to pass legislation within weeks that would allow Illinois residents to legally buy marijuana come Jan. 1. Under the proposed change, Illinois residents over 21 years of age would be able to possess 30 grams of cannabis flower — or the dried plant matter that’s commonly smoked — 5 grams of cannabis concentrates, such as hash oil, and a half a gram of THC contained in cannabis-infused products, such as edibles.
But the other side of the debate has been equally loud, led by poll sponsor Smart Approaches to Marijuana and bolstered by police chiefs and the NAACP Illinois, among others.
Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches toMarijuana, has argued that legalization won’t bring in the revenue that’s been promised, and that it will bring in regulatory burdens, more “drugged driving” and unregulated pot products.
But Pritzker and the bill’s sponsors, who have been working on the legislation for years, say the social justice elements will make a huge difference in the state, and it would regulate a substance already widely available. The current bill allows for the expungement of misdemeanor and Class 4 felony marijuana convictions. The governor’s office said expungements would apply to standalone offenses.
The bill, however, is still evolving, and the expungement part remains a controversial element of the legislation. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, on Thursday said she’s not surprised not all are on board with the 532-page proposal.
“At this point we anticipate that there will be changes due to conversations with both the stakeholders and colleagues,” Cassidy said. “And so we still feel like we’re on track.”
Cassidy said there are many who believe the expungement provisions don’t go far enough. Others think they already go too far.
“That is a very big chunk of it, and I imagine that it’s going to require some tweaking and that was always a part of the conversation,” Cassidy said. “It’s not a hard and fast, this is what’s going to get done.”
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan on Monday warned that the legislation’s passage is “not guaranteed today,” according to a Capitol News Service report. The news service quoted the speaker as telling a group of graduate student reporters at the University of Illinois Springfield that it could be difficult to get 60 House lawmakers on board with the bill, including to support expungement of criminal records. Madigan called that one of the “very controversial” elements.
The new poll asked whether voters favored leaving current laws unchanged, allowing legalized medical marijuana and decriminalization — or ticketing — of small amounts of recreational marijuana. In total, 31% of respondents favored keeping the current policies. Respondents were also asked whether they would prefer keeping the current laws but allowing for past misdemeanor marijuana convictions to be expunged – and found 16% in support of that approach. The anti-marijuana crowd —favoring outlawing all pot use — totaled 9%. Another 3% said they were unsure of their stance on marijuana policies.
The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A pro-legalization group said Smart Approaches to Marijuana is blowing smoke with its poll.
“This poll has zero credibility,” Legalize Illinois said in a statement. ”Support for legalization and smart regulation remains strong, as is seen in every objective, independent poll.”