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Voters are firm in their opinions. Except when they're not.

Consider that one of the big takeaways in a new statewide poll that suggests California voters may now be ready to do what they rejected just three years ago: legalize marijuana.

"The most surprising number for me in our poll," says Mark Baldassare of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California when talking about what's probably the new poll's headline: 60 percent of likely voters surveyed support legal pot.

That's a far cry from the results on November 2010's Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization measure defeated by almost 54 percent of voters.

"This is the first poll we've ever conducted in which we found a majority supporting marijuana use," says Baldassare.

Among all adults in the PPIC survey, support is a bit smaller -- 52 percent favor legalization. Among voter subgroups, it's clear that while white Democrats and independents are the real base of the support, it's really only Republicans and Latinos who oppose more than support the idea of legal pot.

It's possible the changing voter sentiment is partly due to national events like new marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, or perhaps even the growing acceptance of legal pot by prominent Californians like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Whatever the reason, the poll numbers come on the same day that a 2014 legalization initiative formally hits the streets for signature gathering. And the numbers are notable for another reason: politicos often consider 60 percent an important threshold in early support for a California ballot measure.

The changing mind of the electorate is also seen in PPIC's latest numbers on same-sex marriage. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision this past summer to nix the legal defense of 2008's Proposition 8, the issue seems all but settled in the minds of most Californians.

The new poll finds 64 percent of likely voters now support gay marriage. And 63 percent of likely voters support the Supreme Court action that effectively nullified the decision of voters five years ago.

Other notable nuggets in this new PPIC poll...

Yes on Prison Overcrowding Plan: A small majority of those polled in the new survey -- 52 percent -- support the effort of Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators to block the early release of prisoners by either shipping more out of state or diverting more into rehabilitation programs. But the threat of early release draws high concern from less than half of every group surveyed except for Republicans, which suggests the political rhetoric over that fear has had a limited impact.

Crime and Race: PPIC finds a wide gap between the perception of crime among racial and ethnic groups. Most notable is the fact that only 44 percent of Caucasians see local crime as a problem, compared to 64 percent of both Latinos and African Americans. Not surprisingly, 62 percent of white Californians think local government is doing enough to fight crime in their community; 56 percent of black Californians think not enough is being done.

Water Woes: The new poll not only finds a familiar split when it comes to whether Californians want more water (45 percent) or just wiser usage of water (49 percent), but a pretty weak starting point for a big water bond measure on the statewide ballot. Even when considering a $6.5 billion proposal (PDF) now being mulled at the Capitol -- smaller than the original water bond plan -- only 50 percent of likely voters queried by PPIC say they'd vote for it.

John Myers is News10's political editor. Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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