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Originally published Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:53 PM

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Corrected version

Blitz of pot-legalization ads appears to build voter support

The marijuana-legalization campaign appears to have gotten a critical boost from a $2.8 million TV ad campaign just as ballots are being cast.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A $2.8 million TV advertising blitz in October by the campaign to legalize marijuana appears to have given Initiative 502 a critical boost just as ballots are being cast.

There are no marijuana leaves — or even admitted marijuana users — in the ads, reflecting I-502's strategy to attack the ban on marijuana while not endorsing its use.

The TV spots are made more potent by a lack of opposition ads raising questions about the consequences and costs should Washington become one of the first states to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

The KCTS 9 Washington Poll, conducted by University of Washington political scientists and released Thursday, found support for I-502 solidifying since its Oct. 18 poll.

Support among likely voters rose from 47 to 55 percent and opposition dropped from 40 to 38 percent, with the number of undecided voters shrinking. Another poll, commissioned by KING 5, reported nearly identical results: 55 to 37 in favor, with 7 percent undecided.

The UW's Matt Barreto said he was surprised by the swing in support, which he attributes to the "very strong and effective" ad campaign. "I thought this might tighten up more, because it's such a radical change," he said.

Since the August primary, I-502 has aired three TV ads across the state featuring former federal law-enforcement officials and a Seattle mother reading from a similar script. It emphasizes "tight regulatory control" for a legalized marijuana market and potential tax revenue. The state has estimated revenue at up to $1.9 billion over five years.

The ads were funded in part by more than $2 million in donations from Peter B. Lewis, the Ohio-based chairman of Progressive Insurance and a legalization advocate. Overall, I-502 has raised more than $6 million.

The only organized opposition, a group of medical-marijuana activists, has raised $6,800. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and substance-abuse-treatment providers are also opposed, but have not raised money.

Other groups, including business leaders and the state teachers union, have not come out against legalization, as they have in Colorado, where a similar marijuana measure is on the Nov. 6 ballot.

That has allowed I-502 to "define the conversation," said Western Washington University political-science Professor Todd Donovan, which he finds "amazing."

"It's a very nonideological, problem-solving message that fits within Washington's tradition of reform," said Donovan.

The KCTS 9 Washington Poll — a 25-minute survey of 722 voters conducted over the past two weeks — finds a huge gender gap. Nearly two-thirds of men polled said they favor I-502, while fewer than 50 percent of women do.

That explains the most recent I-502 ad, featuring a mother on a porch next to pumpkins. "Young people have easy access since, of course, drug dealers don't check IDs," she says.

Kevin Sabet, a former Obama administration drug-control official, said the ads "sugarcoat the reality" about a core issue for women: youth access to marijuana.

I-502 bans sales to minors at proposed state-license marijuana stores, but Sabet predicts "Joe Camel will turn into Maryjane Camel" in an effort to lure young users. I-502 won't end the black market, he said.

"The reality is that we'll have a black market that exclusively targets young people because there are age limits in this law," said Sabet.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @jmartin206.

Information in this article, originally published Nov. 1, 2012, was corrected Nov. 3. 2012. A previous version of this story referred to the Washington Poll. It is the KCTS 9 Washington Poll.

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