Life may never be the same for stoners after Nov. 8. Five states – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada – will vote on legalizing marijuana, and polls in all five suggest the odds are good for victory.
Four states have already legalized cannabis for any adult use, while another 25 allow full medical marijuana and more than a dozen permit a non-intoxicating medical form of the drug. But so far, all these votes have been treated as political experiments, with uncertain outcomes and far-from-universal public support.
But that is changing. And if even a few of the five states vote yes, there may be no returning to the days of pot prohibition. That’s especially true if weed is legalized in California, the most populous state in the country.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Election Day will be a major turning point for marijuana reform in America. That was true in 2012, when Colorado and Washington legalized the drug, and in 2014, when Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia followed suit.
But it may be even more true in 2016. If all five ballot initiatives pass, they would more than triple the number of Americans with access to legal cannabis. Roughly 18 million people live in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia, compared to 56 million in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
Even if California is the only state to legalize marijuana next month, the number would more than double. The Golden State, with 38 million residents, would immediately become the largest legal cannabis market in the world by far.
California to vote on Prop. 64
Voters there will decide Proposition 64, which would make it legal for adults to buy, possess, and use up to 1 ounce of pot and grow up to six plants at home. Prop. 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would also impose special excise and sales taxes and create regulations for a newly legal cannabis industry.
Polling in California suggests the initiative is likely to pass, with about 60 percent saying they plan to vote yes. The proposals on the ballot in the other four states are less popular but still winning at least 50 percent support.
Almost any combination of victories could prove to be the tipping point for the rest of the United States. If California, Arizona, and Nevada vote yes, marijuana would be legal along the entire Pacific Coast and in much of the American Southwest. If either Maine or Massachusetts legalize, reform would reach the East Coast for the first time.
And that’s not to mention ballot questions that could bring medical cannabis to Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas. Voters in Montana could also add provisions to the medical pot law there.
Are reformers becoming too complacent?
But many advocates worry success has become so commonplace voters and reformers will become complacent. Opponents, meanwhile, are ramping up their efforts to block legalization in as many states as possible. Their long-term goals are hopeless, but any setback could slow reform for the rest of the country.
“California is much closer than we’re hearing about,” Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana told The Atlantic. “It’s a coin flip in all of the states right now.”
Sabet offered no data to refute recent polls in California, but he’s right that the votes could go either way in the other four states. Still, the experience of Americans who have already legalized pot suggest this could be a very good year for marijuana reform.
Let us know: How do you think states will vote on legalization initiatives Nov. 8? Leave a comment.