PHOENIX — Arizona voters may be ready to follow the lead of Colorado and Washington residents and make marijuana use by anyone legal.
A new statewide poll shows 51 percent of those asked said the drug, now authorized for those with a medical reason, should be made available to all. That compares with 41 percent opposed.
Jim Haynes, president of the Behavior Research Center, said the numbers are little short of a sea-change in public opinion.
He said while this is his first statewide poll on the question, a 1974 national survey found legalization opposed by a margin of close to 3-1. Now nationwide numbers pretty much track what was found here, with 54 percent in support.
Some of this may be an increasing acceptance of what was once considered by many to be a dangerous drug.
He pointed out that Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, albeit by a narrow margin. Since that time more than 43,000 Arizonans have been approved to buy up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
But Haynes said there may be another factor at work: demographics.
"Younger voters are social libertarians,'' he said, more willing to let people do what they want without government interference.
Support for legal marijuana is 2-1 among those younger than 35. It drops off to a 12-point spread of backers versus foes in the 35-to-54-year-old age group, with fewer than 40 percent of those 55 and older wanting to legalize the drug.
And what that could indicate, Haynes said, is that as older voters die off and younger ones hit voting age, the margin of those who see nothing wrong with recreational use of marijuana is likely to increase.
That portends well for the Marijuana Policy Project. That group, which funded the successful 2010 ballot measure, is gearing up for a 2016 campaign.
Still, having Arizona follow in the footsteps of other states is far from a lock. Haynes said having the support of just 51 percent is hardly a guarantee of voter approval.
Potentially more significant, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery promised that foes of legalization do not intend to sit on their hands, the way they did four years ago.
"We will not get caught flat-footed and late to the issue again,'' he said when the idea of a 2016 initiative was first proposed last year. That is a reference to the fact that there was no organized opposition to the 2010 measure.
Montgomery also promised to work to "counter the misinformation relied up by the Marijuana Policy Project to mislead the public about the nature and impact of drug legalization.''
The results are from a survey last month of 701 adult heads of household in Arizona, including 457 registered voters. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points for all residents and 4.7 percent for just registered voters.