Your Vote Matters, Especially if You Care About Marijuana

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Voting efforts have reached a fever pitch in 2018 among groups such as billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer’s $10 million spend on the NextGen America nationwide youth voter registration drive to support his “Need to Impeach” efforts.

Contrast that with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s pledge of spending as much as $80 million more on Republican Congressional races.

If you think your vote doesn’t count, then why are billionaires spending so much to capture it?

The 2018 midterm elections represent an opportunity for the recent surge of activism to transfer to the polls. The results could shift in the political landscape that could impact policy and power in Washington for the next two years and into the presidential campaigns given that control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are at stake. At the most basic level, the election will illustrate support for either President Donald Trump’s vision or his opposition’s. The elections will also help improve the chances of marijuana laws’ passage or failure, according to which party dominates in the statehouses and Congress.

Five states with marijuana legalization initiatives could help more liberal candidates. But even in states without ballot measures, the 2018 elections will have an impact on marijuana-related laws in the future. State officials, such as governors and attorneys general, along with state legislators, can hurt or help the industry by applying or removing taxes, blocking or enacting criminal record expungements, and creating regulations that limit or cripple marijuana grow and dispensary operations.  Most observers agree that the more states that pass legalization, the more pressure there will be on other states and Congress to nationalize legalization.

Advocates watch closely

Both of the drug-law reform groups National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)  are tracking marijuana-related bills and making recommendations on candidates and elected officials who are for or against such laws.

Ballotpedia, the online encyclopedia of American politics, compiled an extensive database on Congressional elections:

  • In the U.S. House, all 435 seats plus non-voting delegates are up for election. Heading into November, the House has 237 Republicans and 192 Democrats.  
  • Among 54 open House seats, 17 were held by Democrats; 37 by Republicans.
  • In the Senate, 35 seats are up for grabs. The partisan split is 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them. Three open seats are all held by Republicans.

According to MarijuanaMoment.com, some initiatives could help elect or retain more liberal Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in otherwise conservative states, such as Nevada, Missouri, and North Dakota.

On Nov. 6, 2018,  seats in 87 of 99 statehouse chambers, plus 36 seats for governor, 30 for lieutenant governor, 30 for attorney general, and 27 for secretary of state are up for election. Governors influence whether laws go into effect; attorneys general interpret state law and can hamper new ones.

Regarding state marijuana propositions, Ballotpedia.org lists seven measures in five states, including:

  • Full legalization in Michigan and North Dakota, which for the latter also includes automatic expungement of records
  • Medical marijuana legalization in Utah
  • Three initiatives in Missouri concerning medical marijuana, veterans healthcare services and the Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute Initiative. Missouri voters have the option of voting yes on all three. The one with the most votes will win if there are conflicts between propositions.

Marijuana in Michigan

Michigan’s Proposal 1 initiated by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol could have the greatest effect, due to the state’s likelihood of being the first in the Midwest to legalize adult-use cannabis, according to Mason Tvert, spokesperson for MPP. In essence, voter approval could lead to a domino effect.

“Considering its geographical position, it could influence Ohio and Illinois,” Tvert told Marijuana.com, noting that Ohio roundly rejected a measure in 2015 because of the way it was written to benefit a small group of businesses, not because of proposing legalization. “I think we will see strong support for an initiative like Michigan’s in the near future.”

Josh Hovey, communications director for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said the Michigan initiative is one of the most important for both its economic and human impact.

“We’ve been focusing on two key impacts for Michigan: ending the waste of law enforcement resources used toward a failed policy and generating new tax revenue for Michigan’s most important needs,” Hovey said. “We arrest more than 20,000 people every year for marijuana possession in Michigan, and 70 percent of those arrests are for a quarter ounce or less. Michigan spent $90 million enforcing marijuana possession in 2010 alone.

“This is an incredible waste of our tax dollars that could otherwise be used toward other priorities,” Hovey added. “In fact, new research out of Washington State University found that police in Washington and Colorado are solving crimes faster than their peers in states without legalization. “

Arrest rates for minorities are 2.5 times higher, making it a social justice issue, too, Hovey said.

Additionally, regulating and taxing marijuana will give Michigan a major economic boost.

“The Senate Fiscal Agency is estimating $287 million in annual tax revenue by 2023,” Hovey said. “These funds will be divided between roads, schools and local governments where marijuana businesses are allowed to operate. Michigan roads are some of the worst in the nation, and our schools and local communities have been underfunded for years. The campaign isn’t saying that legalization will solve all of Michigan’s road and school funding problems, but $287 million is a whole lot more than the zero dollars we’re collecting today.”

Currently, polls show that a majority of Michigan voters support the initiative, Tvert said, despite an organized campaign against it.

“There are opposition efforts and attempts to scare voters, but we’re confident voters are seeing through the reefer madness,” Tvert said. “In addition to public health and safety benefits, there are the economic benefits of taxes and potential to create business and new job opportunities.”

Three the hard way

Each of Missouri’s three initiatives is backed by its own interest groups that are seeking to support their unique take on medical marijuana. MPP recommends voting “yes” on all three initiatives to ensure that one passes, because a split vote could cause all three to fail.

“We specifically encourage voters to support Measure 2, but anyone who is supportive of passing a medical marijuana law should vote yes on all of them rather than no,” Tvert said.

MPP has been involved in supporting state-level reforms since it began, contributing to initiative committees, as well as spending millions on lobbying and ballot initiatives.

“Most importantly, we need to ensure voters are educated about marijuana itself and that it‘s a less harmful substance than alcohol and should be treated like it,” Tvert said.

How green is the Garden State?

While many states are considering full legalization, New Jersey stands out as a state to watch for forward movement in 2018. Tvert said the state could have a sizable impact because of its population and its proximity to other influential East Coast states, such as New York.

Democratic New Jersey state Sen. Nicholas Scutari drafted a bill, but it has not been formally introduced or made public as the committee and Statehouse works to find a compromise that has a high enough tax on marijuana sales. Currently, the bill proposes a 12 percent tax, but  Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy wants a 25 percent tax, which would make legal marijuana less competitive in price with black-market supplies.

Scutari sponsored New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, passed in 2009, and has been working to get recreational marijuana legalized since.

Lawmakers matter, too

While marijuana-related initiatives could motivate many younger voters in more conservative states, millennials should be concerned about voting for legislators for a long list of other reasons, according to Arthur Blaustein, a retired University of California, Berkeley, political professor who served as the chair of the National Advisory Council of Economic Opportunity under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  

Blaustein cited job opportunities and livable wages, voter suppression, global warming, public education and student loans, pro-choice laws and affordable health care as just a few of the issues that could have a long-term impact on whether Americans are able to thrive or just survive.

“The most important thing to do, for those who are concerned about the character, integrity, and future of our country — about democracy, the rule of law and the common good — is to spend the next few weeks until Election Day putting our energy, money and time into efforts to flip control of Congress — both the House and the Senate — to the Democrats,” said Blaustein, who is the author of “Democracy is Not A Spectator Sport” and “The American Promise.”

The anticipated surge of 18-year-old first-time voters in 2018 could have a major impact on elections, particularly because they tend to be more progressive than older voters, according to  Time magazine.

Among the many things not to ignore in this election is the power of the younger demographic. When pop singer Taylor Swift recently urged on social media for her 112 million fans to register to vote,  a swell of more than 65,000 new voter registrations followed within 24 hours. If that kind of enthusiasm translates to the voting booth, then this election may make history for decades to come.

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