Between the Lines: Doyle Poll: Hang up and get stoned?

“Legalize it!”
You don’t see that bumper sticker on many cars in Vermont. But support for the legalization of marijuana is close to a majority sentiment, if the results of a recent statewide poll are to be believed.
The state Legislature is still taking a very cautious course toward decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
But according to this year’s 42nd annual Town Meeting Day poll by Sen. Bill Doyle, a near majority of Vermonters favor not just decriminalizing marijuana, but legalizing it altogether.
That’s perhaps the most striking finding in the poll of 12,300 Vermonters in 148 towns and cities who filled out the survey on Town Meeting Day, which while not a scientific sample is a tried-and-true reflection of that segment of the state population.
Sen. Doyle, a Republican who has been conducting the poll for more than 40 years, noted that legislation before the Senate called merely for decriminalization of possessing 2 ounces or less of marijuana. He speculated that if his poll had asked about decriminalizing marijuana and not fully legalizing it, a majority (rather than the 49 percent plurality in the poll results) would have said they favor decriminalization.
While Vermonters may want to end the senseless practice of making criminals out of casual pot smokers, they don’t take nearly as benign a view of driving while talking on a cell phone.
Fully 76 percent of respondents said they favored a prohibition on talking on a cell phone while driving, while only 18 percent favor keeping that practice legal in Vermont. (In the results reported here, the totals don’t add up to 100 percent because none of the respondents chose yes or no on every question.)
Perhaps someone identifying herself as “Bonny,” on the WCAX-TV website, spoke for many Vermonters when she had this to say about a potential ban on cell phone conversations while driving: “I can’t even look at my cell phone if it rings while I am driving. It is way too distracting. I would rather miss a call than kill another on the road. Using cell phones while operating a motor vehicle is stupid and lazy. Pull your car over and yap all you want.”
Vermonters may oppose the hot air generated by cell-phone-using drivers, but they have a more favorable view of wind in general.
It’s heartening to see that a solid majority — 58 percent — favors the building of wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines. Only 23 percent oppose the practice.
Apparently the word is getting around that it’s a good idea to come up with alternatives to fossil fuels, when we have a week of 80-degree weather in March.
Those poll numbers might also give pause to the news media that have expended enormous amounts of ink and air time on a small, misguided band of anti-wind-turbine protesters.
Another sign of how green the Green Mountain State is: 78 percent said the state’s model recycling laws should “be expanded to include all bottled beverages.”
Although groups like the Sierra Club and Vermont Public Interest Research Group have for many years pushed a version of that, the state is a long way from requiring the recycling of all bottled beverages. It’s still true that most kinds of bottled beverages don’t carry the five-cent recycling incentive.
Proving once again that this is a solidly Democratic state, the poll showed that 48 percent of respondents “support the federal law that requires everyone to have health insurance,” with 38 percent against the idea.
Somewhat surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of those responding said the term for Vermont’s governor should be four years, not the current two years.
Another surprise: While Vermonters are solidly behind more recycling, they are nearly evenly split on the state’s ongoing effort to close down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Only 45 percent said the state should keep on keeping on, while 42 percent oppose that idea. Maybe Vermonters really do have more sense than their elected officials, at least on this one.
Gov. Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell have led the ongoing, expensive charge against Vermont Yankee, in the face of highly unfavorable decisions from a federal judge and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The commission (unwisely in my view) extended the nuclear power plant’s operating license. The NRC chose to ignore the obvious safety dangers inherent in a collapsing cooling tower and radioactive contamination of groundwater near the plant.
More reasonably, a federal judge ruled that the state does not have the constitutional right to close down the plant.
It’s hard to see how Vermont has the constitutional power to close Vermont Yankee, as nice as that would be. The Constitution and consistent court rulings clearly reserve regulation of interstate commerce — in which Vermont Yankee is manifestly engaged — for the federal government.
On a more touchy-feely issue, what does the Doyle poll have to say about the mood of Vermont voters?
Political leaders are always trying to get a feel for how happy the electorate is. They can take some heart from the intriguing findings of the Doyle poll.
Asked if they are “optimistic about the future of our nation,” only 35 percent said that, yes, they were optimistic.
But when Doyle asked about optimism concerning Vermont’s future, he found almost exactly the opposite. Nearly twice as many — a resounding 62 percent — said they were optimistic about the future of Vermont.
As Vermont goes, so goes the nation?
Apparently not when it comes to optimism about the future.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.GregDennis.WordPress.com. E-mail him at [email protected].

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