More Massachusetts voters support legal weed than oppose it, according to a new poll, though the state lags behind the rest of the nation in favoring legalization.
The poll found 48 percent of likely voters favor a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana. Forty-seven percent opposed the idea, and five present said they weren’t sure.
Those numbers are strong enough to make Massachusetts a target for future reform. Marijuana advocates plan to push for a ballot question in the 2016 election that would legalize weed.
Still, national support for legal pot routinely tops 50 percent in polls, leaving Massachusetts lagging. Many older voters, Republicans, and independents said they oppose the idea.
If nothing else, the poll demonstrates that opinions in the state are changing, and fast. Just a few years ago, support for legalization was much weaker.
Massachusetts is one of six states targeted by activists for reform in 2016. Two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized pot in 2012, and two others, Alaska and Oregon, could do so this year.
The state already takes a relatively liberal approach to marijuana law. The drug was decriminalized there in 2008, and approved by for medicinal use in 2012.
“I don’t want to underestimate the value of a good campaign on either side,” said John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., the company that conducted the poll. “You’ve got a trend toward acceptance, and this bodes pretty well for the proponents.”
The survey polled 601 likely voters by telephone in late June and early July. It had a 4-point margin or error.
The poll addressed several questions that concern many opponents. For one, it suggests legalization is unlikely to lead more people to use weed. The poll found 10 percent of voters would definitely or probably use legal pot, essentially the same as the 9 percent who said they use the drug now.
Forty-nine percent of voters said they had never used marijuana, while 35 percent said they had last used it more than one year ago. Of the 9 percent who said they currently use, 56 percent said they used marijuana once within the last year, while 44 percent said they use regularly.
Attitudes toward cannabis are also changing, fast enough to encourage advocates.
The poll found 78 percent of voters wouldn’t look at a friend differently for using recreational weed. Those results included not only younger voters but older respondents as well.
At the same time, many voters expressed concerns about the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, especially the relatively high cap on possession. MMJ patients may possess up to 10 ounces of pot every 60 days, the equivalent of 500 joints.
Asked whether that limit is excessive, 47 percent said yes, 36 percent said no, and 17 percent said they weren’t sure.
Robert Ayer, 32, was one of the voters who said he backs legalization and would vote for it in the fall.
“I think it would be good for our economy, for starters, and it’s no more harmful than alcohol or anything, so it wouldn’t really be a drag on society like everyone makes it out to be,” Ayer said. “Colorado is showing it really works.”