What do York countians think of legalized marijuana? This poll might surprise you

"My thought is that it’s time," said state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City.

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A majority of York County residents either support or are leaning toward supporting legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania, according to a poll commissioned by The York Dispatch.

The poll, conducted by Pulse Research of Portland, Oregon, surveyed 400 York County residents between Nov. 11 and Nov. 21, 2019, and came a couple of months after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced his support for legalization.

Wolf cited Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's statewide listening tour to gauge public sentiment.

"My thought is that it’s time," said state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City.

In York County, 46.2% of respondents said they "definitely support" marijuana legalization, and another 10.7% said they're leaning toward supporting the move, according to the poll results.

On the opposing side, 31% said they "definitely do not support" legalization, and another 4% said they're leaning toward not supporting.

An additional 8% said they don't know where they stand on the issue.

The poll was conducted over the phone, with results weighted by age and gender and a margin of error of 4.95%.

About 40% of responses were collected in four ZIP codes, comprising York City, Hanover and West York as well as West Manheim, Penn, Heidelberg, Springettsbury, Hellam, York, Spring Garden, Springfield, West Manchester, Manchester and Conewago townships.

The remaining 60% of responses encompassed the rest of the county.

The argument that "everyone's already doing it" isn't enough of a reason for legalization on its own, Hill-Evans said.

"Along with the legalization, we need to do some criminal justice reform," she said. "We also have to look at what that’s going to create in the case of folks who were already charged with small amounts of marijuana possession."

More: Closer Look: Revenue predictions hazy for states looking to legalize

More: Closer Look: Black Pennsylvanians hard hit by marijuana laws

Hill-Evans is the only York County legislator to go on the record in support of legalization.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, released what she said was evidence that her constituency opposed marijuana legalization. Phillips-Hill's information came from informal surveys on social media and did not appear to be scientific.

A sample of people who visit a legislator's website is liable to be biased, and common sense indicates those visitors are most likely supporters of that politician, said John Marling, president of Pulse Research.

"What we do is a statistical random sample," Marling said. "Every single household has an equal chance of being selected."

Phillips-Hill said that although her survey results differ from the results of the Pulse Research poll, she wants to hear from any of her constituents who support legalization.

"For me, it’s always about the people of the 28th District when I’m in Harrisburg," she said.

Polling data on marijuana legalization is sometimes inconsistent.

The Pew Research Trusts released its own poll in November showing that two-thirds of Americans support legalization.

In March, a statewide Franklin & Marshall College poll showed that 59% of Pennsylvanians support legalization, mirroring the Pew Trusts findings.

But in October, Fox 43 reported that, based on a statewide poll the station commissioned from Susquehanna Polling and Data, 48% of Pennsylvanians oppose legalization, and only 37% are in favor.

Breaking down the data: Party affiliation and age influenced respondents' opinions in The York Dispatch's poll.

Of the 170 Republicans surveyed, about 45% said they either definitely support or are leaning toward supporting legalization.

Of the 108 Democrats surveyed, about 70% said they either definitely support or are leaning toward supporting legalization.

Of the 261 respondents ages 40 and older, about 53% either definitely support or are leaning toward supporting.

And of the 139 respondents ages 39 and younger, about 64% either definitely support or are leaning toward supporting.

Respondents also had the opportunity to answer open-ended questions about why they support or oppose legalization.

The most common reasons given in support were that alcohol and tobacco are at least as harmful or more harmful than marijuana, and they're both legal.

Other responses included "It gives us personal freedom" and "The government should leave people alone about it."

In the open-ended responses on the opposing side, several people said marijuana should be legal for medical use only and that there's not enough research on the health effects of recreational use.

There were also concerns about safety on the road because of drivers under the influence of marijuana.

One person said, "I don't want to be on the roads with somebody who is high." Another person said, "We have enough nuts out in the world."

CLOSE

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale spoke at the 2018 Spring Legislative Luncheon Thursday, May 17, sharing his review of a drug rehab spending audit, and his thoughts on marijuana as an effective tool in the opioid crisis. Wochit

State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, dismissed the findings of the opinion poll and said his constituents oppose legalization by about a two-to-one margin based on feedback he's received at town hall meetings and public outreach events.

His constituents are concerned that it's a gateway drug, Gillespie said.

"Marijuana is much more potent today than it was back in the '70s when it was starting to come into vogue," he said. "It’s much more hallucinogenic and addictive than it was many, many years ago."

This is part of a monthly series at The York Dispatch. Each month, Dispatch staffers will delve into a new topic that we believe deserves a Closer Look.

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