TALLAHASSEE, FL -- Five months after narrowly rejecting a medical-marijuana ballot initiative, Florida voters overwhelmingly support allowing doctor-prescribed pot in the state, according to a poll released Monday.
The Quinnipiac University poll found that 84 percent of Florida voters back letting adults use medical marijuana if doctors prescribe it.
But here's the rub: Polls in late 2013 and the first part of 2014 also showed support for medical marijuana topping 80 percent. In the November 2014, election, however, a proposed ballot initiative received about 58 percent of the vote --- shy of the 60 percent needed to approve constitutional amendments.
The numbers plummeted, at least in part, because opponents spent millions of dollars on television ads warning that the ballot initiative included loopholes that could lead to widespread abuse.
The group behind the 2014 amendment, People United for Medical Marijuana, has signaled it is willing to put a revised pot initiative before voters in 2016 if lawmakers don't approve legalization. Republican legislative leaders have largely dismissed the idea of legalizing full-blown medical marijuana, saying they want to focus on moving forward with a 2014 law that allowed a limited type of non-euphoric cannabis for certain medical conditions.
People United for Medical Marijuana would need to collect 683,149 petition signatures to get on the 2016 ballot. The state Division of Elections website indicates the group had not submitted any valid signature as of Monday morning.
The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states. The latest poll of 1,087 Florida voters was conducted from March 17 to March 28.
The poll also offered an early glimpse of the state's 2016 U.S. Senate race if Republican incumbent Marco Rubio decides to run for president instead of seeking a second term in the Senate. Rubio is slated to make an announcement next week and is widely expected to run for president.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the poll numbers is that voters are largely unfamiliar with Rubio's potential successors. For example, Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy has already announced he is running for the Senate seat in 2016, but 74 percent of voters said they had not heard enough about him to have an opinion.
Meanwhile, Republican state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has been elected statewide twice, but 58 percent of voters said they hadn't heard enough about him to have an opinion. Similarly, 78 percent of voters said they hadn't heard enough to form an opinion about Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
"If U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president, the fight for his Senate seat will be a test of relatively unknown candidates on both sides of the aisle," Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in a prepared statement accompanying the results. "Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has a small edge in exposure to the voters, but we have a long way to go. Whoever wins will be the candidate who does the best job introducing themselves to the voters."
As part of a series of hypothetical head-to-head contests, the poll showed Atwater leading Murphy by a margin of 38 percent 34 percent. Murphy led Lopez-Cantera by a margin of 35 percent to 31 percent.