HELENA - A slim majority of Montanans favor repealing the law legalizing medical marijuana, but in response to another question, a much larger percentage support tightening regulations on the industry rather than terminating the law, a new Lee Newspapers poll shows.
When asked whether they would support or oppose repealing the 2004 state law legalizing medical marijuana, 52 percent said they'd support repeal and 38 percent opposed it. Ten percent were undecided.
In response to another question, however, 83 percent of voters said they favor enacting stricter regulation and licensing requirements for medical marijuana in the state. Thirteen percent opposed tightening the law, while 4 percent were undecided.
Another question asked voters to choose among three options: repealing the medical marijuana law, enacting stricter regulations or leaving the current law intact.
The poll showed 57 percent backing stricter regulations and licensing requirements, while 31 percent wanted to repeal the law and 11 percent favored keeping the current law intact. The remaining 1 percent were uncertain.
The poll also asked this question: "In 2004, Montana voters passed an initiative to legal the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Would you say the law has worked out: better than you expected, worse than you expected or about the same as you expected?"
Fifty-three percent said the law had worked out worse than expected and 35 percent said it turned out the same as they expected. Only 3 percent said it was better than they had expected, while 9 percent were undecided.
The poll was taken for Lee Newspapers March 14-16 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C. A total of 625 registered Montana voters from around the state were interviewed. All said they regularly vote in Montana elections. The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.
Medical marijuana is one of the major issues facing the 2011 Legislature, which so far hasn't agreed on a solution. A bill to repeal the law passed the House, but a Senate committee deadlocked over it last week and it remains in limbo. Meanwhile, Senate and House subcommittees are working on possible bills to impose more regulatory and licensing restrictions.
Industry supporters maintain that medical marijuana is assisting many people who suffer from debilitating diseases, who found relief after other prescription drugs didn't help them.
Critics, however, contend the industry has spun out of control in Montana. The number of people obtaining cards authorizing them to use medical marijuana skyrocketed from 3,921 in September 2009 to 28,739 in February 2011.
In follow-up interviews with the Missoulian State Bureau, some Montanans who were polled had strong feelings about the issue.
"I feel it needs to be repealed," said Ella Schultz of Deer Lodge, a retired accountant. "I'm anxious about the children, about the people that are smoking it in their house or having it in their cookies. Marijuana is the first step. Montana is going to be a big crime place. The mob is going to come in."
Agreeing was Jeff Bretherton, a Missoula Realtor. "I think the law has been used as cover-up to protect some unlawful activities," he said.
But others called for tightening up the law, not repealing it.
"It should be revised," said Gary Stewart, a retired Great Falls resident. "It shouldn't be repealed. I just think it's out of control. I've never smelled it. I've never smoked it. I'm just an old guy. (But) I think there are some people that it helps."
Peggy Cain of Missoula, a retired nurse, advocated fixing the law.
"I don't think it's right to repeal something that the voters of the state have put into the law," she said. "I'm in favor of medical marijuana."
Licensed private investigator Richard Hanson of Columbus said, "I think fix it up. I think we need it, but boy, I think it's being abused as is."
Homemaker Lila Erickson of Troy said she supports leaving the law as it is, saying: "Some people use it for medical reasons, and I think it's a good thing."
The poll's cross tabs revealed the split between political parties and men and women.
The strongest supporters of repealing the law were Republicans and independents, with most Democrats against the idea. Men were more likely to favor repeal than women.
Everyone - men, women, Democrats, Republicans and independents - advocated stricter regulation and licensing requirements for medical marijuana.
When it came to choosing whether to repeal the law, tighten it up or do nothing, women and Democrats showed the strongest support for enacting stricter regulations, although a majority of men did, too. A majority of Republicans favored repealing it.
Coming Monday: The Lee Newspapers poll asks about the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Montana, and ranks the job performance of the state's congressional delegation.