Marijuana Legalization On The Ballot In Oregon, Alaska, And Washington, D.C.
Two states and the nation's capital could have legal marijuana after Tuesday's elections.
Two years ago, voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, making those two states the first states in the nation in which one could buy and smoke marijuana openly without fear of any legal consequences of any kind. While it was not the first time that such a referendum had been on the ballot, that distinction belongs to California’s Proposition 19, which failed to win approval. This year, though, three more jurisdictions will vote on the issue:
And Democrats have found that supporting legalization — once an invitation to be labeled soft on crime — no longer carries the risk it once did, as public discussion of prison overcrowding and law enforcement budgets has reframed the issue.
National groups that have long advocated legalization have provided labor and money, along with help from a legal marijuana industry that did not exist in 2012. The old antidrug coalition has struggled to find traction and money. Supporters of legalization have outdone opponents’ fund-raising here in Oregon by more than 25 to 1, and in Alaska by about 9 to 1.
“The support coalition is definitely broader, and the opposition has splintered,” said Corey Cook, an associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who follows the marijuana debate.
The pro-legalization campaigns in Oregon and Alaska are financed largely by national organizations. In Alaska, 84 percent of the $867,000 raised by legalization proponents at Yes on Ballot Measure 2 has come from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group based in Washington, D.C., with an advisory board that includes actors, musicians and politicians, including Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2012. Opponents to legalization in Alaska have raised only $97,000.
In Oregon, the Drug Policy Alliance, based in New York and backed by the billionaire investor George Soros, has led the charge, contributing at least $780,000 this year, according to state records, making up about 35 percent of the cash raised by the main committee supporting legalization.
Marijuana-related businesses or investors in Colorado, Washington and California have contributed at least $60,000. Contributors includedO.penVAPE, a company based in Denver that sells products for consuming concentrates like hash oil; Privateer Holdings, a marijuana investment firm in Seattle; and Vicente Sederberg, which calls itself “The Marijuana Law Firm.”
There has been some well-funded opposition to legalization, especially in Florida, where voters will decide whether to become the first state in the South to allow marijuana for certain medical uses. There, Sheldon G. Adelson, a casino executive from Las Vegas, has contributed $5 million to opponents of medical marijuana, about 86 percent of the total raised by the main committee fighting the legislation.
But in Oregon, there has been “no sugar daddy,” as Mr. Marquis, the county prosecutor, put it. Opponents have raised only about $179,000.
Initiative 71 in Washington, D.C., would allow residents to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and grow up to six cannabis plants at home. Measure 91 in Oregon would allow possession by adults of up to eight ounces of marijuana and four plants. Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska would allow adult possession of one ounce and six plants.
Polling on the issue has been mixed in each of the jurisdiction, and much like the California, Washington, and Colorado initiatives its likely to come down to what the voters are thinking on the issues when they go to vote. In Oregon, for example, most polling has shown “Yes” leading in the polls but a recent poll in The Oregonian showed the race within the margin of error with “No” holding a narrow 2 point lead and 7% undecided. What’s likely to help the “Yes” forces is the fact that voting in Oregon is strictly conducted via mail. Conventional wisdom suggests that this leads to higher turnout among those parts of the voting public that would otherwise be less likely to get out and vote. Additionally, the fact that Senator Jeff Merkley, who is in a re-election battle that he is clearly going to win, recently endorsed the ballot initiative. In Alaska, the polling on Measure 2 has been even more ambiguous, with some polling showing the measure winning, some showing it losing, and one showing “No” ahead by some ten points and another one taken around the same time showing “Yes” winning by nearly 20 points. This being Alaska, the usual caveats about the difficulty and unreliability of polls would seem to apply so we’ll have to wait until the results are in to know for sure where things are headed. The one initiative that seems assured of success is the one in Washington D.C. where polling has shown “Yes” on Initiative 71 well ahead in the most recent polls. So, at the moment at least, it appears that the initiatives in Oregon and Alaska are up in the air while the Nation’s Capitol appears to be well on the way to legalizing marijuana, a prospect that should make things interesting in those parts of the city that are controlled by Federal law enforcement.
Likely assisting the “Yes” forces in all three jurisdiction is the fact that this is now well trodden ground thanks to the success of the initiatives in Colorado and Washington two years ago, and the fact that implementation of legalization in both states has gone relatively smoothly. Contrary to the warnings of the opponents of legalization when those two states were considering the ballot initiatives, we have not seen much evidence of any of the “horror stories” that were used by the “No” crowd to try to scare voters away from legalization. Admittedly, there have apparently been some issues in Colorado regarding children gaining access to the edible marijuana products being sold in some of the stories authorized to sell marijuana, but most of the reports I’ve seen on that issue have boiled down to parents and other adults not being responsible enough about keeping such products away from children. That’s not an argument against legalization per se, of course. Broadly, though, legalization appears to be going well in both states and has been financially successful as well. That alone may be enough to convince voters in Oregon and Alaska and Oregon to end the rather silly prohibition on marijuana. If legalization succeeds in all three jurisdictions, it’s likely to add to the momentum that has been behind the movement since the wins two years ago. There is already an effort to get the issue back on the ballot in California in 2016, where it would be before an electorate that is more likely to be supportive than the one that voted on the issue four years ago given that it will be a Presidential election year in a very blue state. Other states may follow and also put something similar on their ballot in 2016. If that happens, of course, the issue is likely to come up in the 2016 Presidential election, where the issue will be not so much the issue of legalization itself but the question of whether the candidates would support the idea of modifying Federal policy to refrain from prosecuting in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana. The candidates would also be likely to face questions about the idea of removing marijuana from the FDA’s list of Schedule I drugs, something that the FDA itself is apparently already considering. Positive results for the legalization movement, then, could have big implications nationwide going forward, and at the very least will prompt a much needed national debate on this issue.