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Pollster To GOP: Grass Is Greener On The Side Of Pot Legalization

Eric Gay

A Republican-affiliated polling firm is arguing that backing the legalization of marijuana can be a winner for GOP legislators in Harrisburg, where efforts to advance the cause have languished.

In a polling memo composed for the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, Harrisburg-based Harper Polling said that 62 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania favored the sale of cannabis to adults. The idea won majorities across the ideological spectrum and the state, the poll found, though it was weakest among conservatives and in more rural northern counties. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of likely voters also preferred that the state tax the sale of cannabis “as a way to address the state’s projected budget deficit,” meanwhile, rather than raise other existing taxes on income, sales, and businesses.

Harper has traditionally worked for Republican candidates and causes, and its memo for the coalition focuses on Republican legislators in particular.

“Far from being an electoral drag, supporting adult use cannabis has positive effects for a Republican legislator,” the memo asserts. A third of Republicans polled, it said, “would enthusiastically support” re-electing a legislator who voted in favor of cannabis use for adults. Only 9 percent of GOP voters polled would vote against a legislator on the basis of such a vote.

“Meanwhile, a third of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a Republican legislator who they knew ‘supported controlling, regulating and taxing the sale of adult use cannabis,’” the memo asserts.

Legalization was especially popular among younger voters of both parties, the memo said.

Another area of bipartisan agreement: Voters polled preferred that cannabis not be sold through state-controlled liquor stores, 58 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Democrats agreed. (The poll was conducted between April 21 and April 26, a time when liquor stores have been closed to in-person shopping and complaints have been rife about the accessibility of its remote-purchasing procedures.)

The poll surveyed 644 likely voters in the state and had a margin of error slightly less than 4 percent. While it was compiled for an organization that backs access to marijuana, other surveys have also shown a clear majority of residents support legalization. And as the state faces a budget crisis stemming from the coronavirus, the memo lands at a time when alternatives to tax hikes and spending cuts may be especially attractive.

Bills to permit the sale have gained little traction in the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. Legislation proposed in the House and Senate has idled since last fall. A new measure introduced in March by Pittsburgh state Rep. Jake Wheatley, House Bill 2050, is currently in the House Health Committee.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.