Little is guaranteed when it comes to marijuana reform. In the past, near-certain victories have flipped into humiliating defeats, and gained ground has been lost.
But the legalization train has left the station, and it is likely to roll through California in November. Activists in the nation’s most populous state have already raised more than $2 million to put the question on the statewide ballot.
Public support for the idea is well above 50 percent in most polls, increasing the odds legalization will pass. And lawmakers across the state have begun to treat it as an inevitability.
But what happens to the rest of the country if the Golden State goes legal? Does it matter to Oklahoma or Alabama or North Dakota? And what is likely to follow November’s vote?
California is more significant state for reform
It can’t be over-stressed how important this election is for the future of cannabis reform in the United States. Four states have already legalized, but their populations are much smaller than California’s. Success in California would dramatically change the landscape of legal weed.
For one thing, a “yes” vote would make marijuana legal up and down the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border. That would strengthen the grip reform already has on the country, and it would drive another nail into the coffin of the Mexican cartels.
Legalization is quietly strangling the black market in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, and the District of Columbia, the five places that legalized cannabis between 2012 and 2014. That bodes well for advocates in California, where illegal grows are widespread and hard to eradicate. Voters are also more likely to favor reform if they believe drug crimes will become less common and less violent.
Money out the pockets of carters
Eventually legalization could encourage the end of cartels in America, as it spreads through the heartland. That may not happen for a while, but it’s probably inevitable.
Also, victory in California could directly spur other states to act. That, in turn, could snowball into a coordinated push to end prohibition across the country, at every level of government. Several states are already considering legalization votes in November, including Arizona, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Best of all for many stoners, prices could drop from coast to coast if California legalizes. As more states have allowed marijuana, black market prices have dropped in many places. Tokers in non-legal states would still have to rely on the black market for some time, but a larger legal market would mean more pot diverted for illegal trafficking and sales. That would increase black market supply, which would drive down costs.
Diversion is not great for the image of legalization, but lower prices would only encourage further reform, as they would attract more smokers who couldn’t afford earlier prices. Dealers would buy and sell more product, and marijuana would become even cheaper.
The most important effect of legalization, though, is the massive impact it would have on national cannabis politics. Congress and President Barack Obama are at best cautious on the issue, at worst hostile. The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t been much help, either.
But that could all change after this year’s presidential election. The presidency, the Senate, and the high court are all up for grabs in November following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. No matter who wins, legalization is likely to be a topic of great discussion after the parties nominate candidates in the summer. And California could drive that discussion much further toward smart drug policy in America.