SACRAMENTO -- Californians support legalizing pot in greater numbers than ever -- and they want the federal government to cool it with the crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries.

In a Field Poll released Wednesday, California voters, by a margin of 54 percent to 43 percent, supported allowing legal sales of marijuana, as long as restrictions are in place on age, driving under the influence of the drug and licensing those who sell it. That represents the highest level of support since the Field Poll began asking the question 44 years ago, when most California believed pot was the gateway drug to more hurtful substances.

Only 13 percent of California adults supported legalizing marijuana in 1969 -- the year of Woodstock.

Preparing marijuana for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic, 2009. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Preparing marijuana for sale at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic, 2009. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) ( Eric Risberg )

"Now, we're getting to the point where baby boomers have lived with this stuff for most of their lives," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

Two-thirds of 834 registered voters said they opposed the Obama administration's raids on medical marijuana outlets, in which nearly 200 dispensaries -- most in California -- were targeted in President Barack Obama's first term. Local governments have taken cues from the administration: Two hundred cities and counties have banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

The state Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling on whether local governments can shut down dispensaries.

Nearly three-fourths -- 72 percent -- of Californians back the state's existing medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 1996. And a strong majority -- 58 percent -- would support allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in their own community.

"Certainly, it's a rebuke of the Obama administration's tactics," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "It should indicate that the Justice Department's tactics are unacceptable and should be reconsidered."

Obama once criticized President George W. Bush for his aggressive approach to shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries. But Obama is on pace to exceed Bush's record of medical marijuana busts.

Though voters support medical marijuana, just over two years ago they rejected a ballot measure to legalize pot, Proposition 19, by a 53 to 47 percent margin. Legalization had only narrow support -- 50 to 46 percent -- in a Field Poll four months before that election, and the measure's chances for success were derailed by what political analysts called a lackluster campaign and a vague regulatory plan.

Well-run campaigns and more detailed regulatory plans led to pot legalization last November in Colorado and Washington state.

A coalition of Proposition 19 supporters met in December to discuss potential future California ballot measures. They've said that they're targeting the 2016 presidential election ballot, though they haven't ruled out putting it on the ballot in 2014.

A younger and more tolerant electorate is changing the political landscape. Among voters between the ages of 18 and 29, legalization has a 58-39 edge; among 30- to 39-year-olds, it has a 61-38 percent advantage. Voters 65 or older are the least likely to support legalization, with only 43 percent in favor and 52 percent against.

Independent voters most strongly support legalization, at 59 percent, closely followed by Democrats, at 58 percent.

Only 42 percent of Republicans favor legalization. And Latinos are just as against it, with only 41 percent in favor. But Latinos between the ages of 18 and 39 support it, 53 to 47 percent. Only 30 percent of Latinos 40 and older support legalization.

Voters living in the Bay Area are most likely to support legalizing pot, with 66 percent in favor. Voters along the coast south of Los Angeles County are the least likely, at 47 percent.

The poll, taken Feb. 5 to 17, has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101. Follow him at Twitter.com/ssharmon. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.