Marijuana legalization is an issue gaining traction and popularity in the United States, a fact highlighted by the increase in ballot measures nationwide to legalize the drug for either recreational or medicinal use. In 2016 alone, 5 states could legalize marijuana completely for adults 21 or older while 3 or 4 more states will consider legalizing medical marijuana.
Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and California all have ballot initiatives taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol. The age for use would be the same as alcohol and driving under the influence would still be illegal. Most of the state initiatives are the same or very similar, but California gets a little more specific in regulating the sale and use of recreational marijuana.
California’s Prop. 64 is more ambitious and detailed than other legalization initiatives. It does not allow for marijuana use in public, taxes marijuana at a 15% rate for assorted causes (with an emphasis on law enforcement, substance abuse prevention, and the environment), and regulates marijuana sales, testing, manufacturing, and cultivation under three state departments.
Prop. 64 also requires labeling and would legalize industrial hemp production as an environmentally friendly alternative to harvesting trees and cotton. The proposition would also regulate competition in the marijuana industry to aid small business growers and prevent marijuana monopolies.
Three or four states will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The states that already have medical marijuana on the ballot are Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. Missouri medical marijuana advocates are currently petitioning state courts to allow their initiative on the ballot.
North Dakota could legalize only private use of medical marijuana. Under the 2016 ballot measure, public use would still be banned.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act (2016) is on the ballot in Arkansas. However, it conflicts with the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. The Marijuana Policy Project claims both could fail due to votes being divided between the two measures on the November ballot.
Analysts say that while the Medical Marijuana Amendment changes the state constitution itself, it is not as comprehensive at legalizing medical marijuana as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act.
The "Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, Amendment 2 (2016)" is on the ballot in Florida as a state constitutional amendment. The initiative allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician. The initiative also allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana.
The Florida Department of Health would register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and will issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. The Florida initiative does not lift a ban on homegrown medical marijuana.
How Pot Could Impact The 2016 Elections
According to the Huffington Post, young voters (18-36) tend to turn out in higher numbers when marijuana is on the ballot. Since Millennials are now the largest living generation in the U.S., and represent approximately a third of the electorate, legalization efforts could sway other races on the November ballot, from the presidential election to down-ballot races.
Many Millennial voters give Donald Trump a much higher disapproval rating than the general public, meaning Republicans further down the ballot might also take a huge hit at the polls and in crucial swing states like Missouri, Nevada, and Florida. Marijuana legalization could influence not only the presidential race, but the makeup of Congress and legislative chambers in these states.
These voters may also be inclined to favor candidates who have unequivocally voiced support for legalizing marijuana and ending the War on Drugs, like libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson or Dr. Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party. How other candidates in November respond to these initiatives could play a major role in their political destinies.