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Gravis poll shows roadmap to kill medical marijuana plan: talk about kids and felons


Medical marijuana has consistently drawn super-majority support in Florida polls, but a new survey shows a way to beat the issue at the ballot box: Talk about kids and felons.

The survey by Winter Springs-based Gravis Marketing shows medical marijuana garners 57 percent support at the start -- low compared to other polls finding support of 62 percent to 82 percent. But support plummets in the face of a negative campaign.

The poll also found Democrat Charlie Crist leading Gov. Rick Scott 47-44 percent, with Libertarian Adrian Wyllie drawing 3 percent support.

The top lines of its poll aside, what makes Gravis’ survey stand out is that it decided to ask about the medical marijuana language as it will appear on the November 2014 ballot. And the firm decided to test negative messages against the proposed constitutional amendment to see what moves the needle of public opinion.

“There are no standards for caregivers and the language would permit drug addicts, drug dealers or felons to assist in smoking pot,” one Gravis question asks. “Knowing this, would you vote Yes or No on the amendment?”

In response, only 25 percent said yes and 67 percent said no. That’s a net shift of 68 percentage points against the amendment. Another question about kids getting marijuana without their parents’ knowledge or permission polled in a similarly poor fashion.

To pass, a Florida Constitutional amendment needs 60 percent voter support.

Ben Pollara, who heads the citizens group People United for Medical Marijuana, criticized the poll by saying that they should have asked what people thought about giving “Jäger-bomb” alcoholic drinks to children.

“They asked the questions that were most-damaging,” Pollara said. “And they worked.”

Pollara also criticized Gravis for showing in 2012 that that Rep. Connie Mack had a shot against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who blew away the Republican on Election Day. Also, a previous Gravis poll found 45 percent support for medical marijuana when others found far higher support.

“Now they say we’re at 57 percent, so we’ve gained 12 points? It doesn’t make sense,” Pollara said.

Doug Kaplan, Gravis’ president who came under fire during the last election, acknowledged his firm released some early problematic polls, but he hired a new team and corrected the problems. He said all of Gravis’ later polls were close to the presidential results in Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina. He also said Gravis accurately predicted the Pinellas County congressional Republican primary winner, David Jolly.

Kaplan said he's nonpartisan and has worked for Republicans and Democrats. Pointing to his governor's race numbers, which track other polls, Kaplan said his results speak for themselves.

Regarding medical marijuana, Kaplan said he message-tested the issue to see what would happen in a campaign.

“We see these poll numbers of 70 percent 80 percent in Florida, but there’s no way medical marijuana will get that in Florida,” Kaplan said.

“Massachusetts, the most-liberal state in the nation, only passed medical marijuana with 63 percent,” he said. “But Florida’s going to pass it by more? That’s not going to happen.”

The Gravis poll was conducted with so-called “robo-polling” technology in which respondents register a choice by pushing buttons on their phone in response to questions from a pre-recorded messenger.

Because robo-polling doesn’t use cell phones, the surveys can disproportionately survey conservative-leaning voters who are more likely to be older, land-line phone owners. Many pollsters look down on robo-only polls. And Public Policy Polling recently announced it has started supplementing its polls by using online questionnaires.

PPP, incidentally, last month found that 65 percent supported medical marijuana.

In clearing the issue for the ballot last week, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion that stated the proposal was designed for “debilitating” ailments, not minor conditions. Still, Gravis asked about minor ailments twice:

“People who have minor conditions or illnesses would be able to get legal access to smoking marijuana,” one question asked. “Knowing this, would you vote Yes or No on the amendment?”

The poll showed 46 percent said yes, and 39 percent said no.

Support then crumbled when the minor ailments were spelled out: “like anxiety, non-chronic pain, or menstrual cramps.” In that case, 27 percent supported the amendment and 60 percent supported it.

Asked if people believed marijuana should be legal in all cases, 26 percent said yes and 66 percent opposed it. And when asked if people would support the amendment if they knew that “possession, sale and cultivation are in violation of federal law,” only 27 percent still supported the measure while 54 percent opposed it.

In November, when Quinnipiac University polled marijuana in Florida, it found that 48 percent favored legalization for adults and 46 percent opposed it. But medical marijuana’s polling numbers were off the charts: 82 percent in favor and 16 percent opposed.

However, that medical marijuana poll specifically asked about “adults” getting it. Children could get medical marijuana under the amendment and even under a bill that could be filed in the Legislature. Called a so-called “Charlotte’s Web” bill, the legislation targets a specific strain of marijuana that could help children with severe epilepsy.

Pollara, with People United, said that sick children who could get relief from medical-marijuana will be part of the group's campaign, which is prepared to answer every charge of its opponents.

Kaplan said he didn't poll for any clients, and conducted this freebie survey just to get an idea for what's to come.

"I'll certainly work for the opponents," he said.