SACRAMENTO -- An initiative that would make California the first state to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use has become more popular among voters likely to cast a ballot in the November election, according to a Field Poll released Sunday.

The survey found that Proposition 19 was favored by 49 percent of likely voters, with 42 percent opposed. That's a significant shift from July, when a similar poll found the initiative trailing by 4 percentage points.

"There's a real chance of passage here. It didn't look that way two months ago," Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. "Voters certainly understand the concept here. It's not a complicated initiative."

DiCamillo said the challenge for the initiative's backers will be to hold on to that support and persuade some undecided voters to come to their side.

That could be difficult if law enforcement officials and politicians launch what is expected to be an opposition campaign in the final weeks leading up to the election.

In an opinion piece published Friday in the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the initiative would make California a laughingstock and would cause legal nightmares for the state if it passed.

Critics also have said the initiative will encourage marijuana use and increase drug-related crimes while doing little for the state's economy.


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If Proposition 19 passes, adults could possess up to 1 ounce of the drug, and the state could tax its distribution and sale.

Supporters say legalizing marijuana would bring much-needed revenue to the state while reducing the influence of drug cartels. Its supporters include the state's largest labor group, the 700,000-member Service Employees International Union.

Younger voters were among the strongest backers of the initiative, with those younger than 40 favoring it 59 percent to 33 percent. Voters 65 and older opposed the proposition 53 percent to 36 percent.

DiCamillo said the survey questioned more older voters to reflect projected voter turnout in gubernatorial elections.

In general, more voters favor marijuana legalization today than four decades ago. A 1969 Field Poll found that just 13 percent of California's registered voters supported legalization. That rose to 30 percent in 1983 and nearly 50 percent this year.

Support for legalized medical marijuana has remained steady over the past six years, at 74 percent of registered voters.

The poll also surveyed likely voters about Proposition 23, an initiative funded by out-of-state oil companies that would suspend the state's 2006 law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Opponents outnumber supporters 45 percent to 34 percent.

Meanwhile, voters continue to support Proposition 25, which would allow the state Legislature to pass budgets with a simple majority vote rather than a two-thirds majority. It has support from 46 percent of likely voters compared with 30 percent who oppose it.

The poll surveyed 857 registered voters by telephone from Sept. 14 to Sept. 21. It had a sampling error margin of 4.1 percentage points for likely voters.