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Barney Bishop: Most media reporting on medical pot unfairly supports it

Newspaper stories and blogs continue to document the coming battle over the state constitutional amendment that would permit the use of medical marijuana.  However, most reporters write pro-marijuana stories, giving little coverage to the other side of the story.

For example, several recent stories say that polling shows Amendment 2 passing handily.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

The polling that reporters and bloggers often cite is from Quinnipiac University, which is flawed.  If you look closely, the pollsters are not asking the correct question.

And almost all other pollsters are asking similar generic questions.  That’s where you get the high numbers of support at 70 to 80 percent for approval.

They ask voters, “Are you in favor of legalizing medical marijuana?”  That’s a great question, but unfortunately that’s not how this issue is going to appear on the ballot on November 4.

On the ballot, voters will see the legalistic language of the amendment and a summary of it that is easy for voters to read and understand.

What they won’t see is: “Are you in favor of medical marijuana?”

When shown the actual ballot language or summary, only 57 percent of those polled support the initiative. At least 60 percent of voters must approve the amendment for it to become law.

The second problem with some of the polling is that the wrong people are being polled. Just asking registered voters is not going to reveal the actual outcome.

“Likely voters” are the best predictor of election results.  A pollster must screen voters at the beginning of their phone contact and inquire if the respondent is really going to vote.

The third important variable is whether the pollster is a live person or a computer.  Computerized calls are often referred to as “robo” calling.  The problem with them is that a computer is not able to detect if the person answering the call is lying about his or her identity. It could be a child simply having fun on the phone.  A human pollster may hear the difference.

So, the next time you see a poll about medical marijuana, see how much the reporter or blogger tells you about the poll.  Did the pollster: use the ballot language or summary or just a generic question; determine whether he was polling registered voters or likely voters; use computer calling or human callers.

In addition to citing bad polls, it appears that many  reporters and bloggers essentially write the same storyline.  They cite individuals who claim that they are in great pain and say that medical marijuana is the only solution to their pain. These are great anecdotal stories.

Writers usually throw in a few arguments from the opposition, but it’s really there just so that they can pretend to be balanced.

This amendment is really about two things. It’s about getting Democratic voters to the polls to help presumed-Democratic nominee Charlie Crist get elected governor and it’s about legalizing recreational marijuana.

By the way, when Crist was the Republican governor, he vociferously opposed legalization of medical marijuana.  Guess what — he’s now be in favor of it.

Barney Bishop III, a registered lobbyist since 1979 is the president & CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting, LLC and has worked for over 20 years representing clients in the behavioral healthcare and criminal justice fields. Barney can be reached at barney@barneybishop.comColumn courtesy of Context Florida.

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