As we approach the midterm elections this November 4th, it is important that everyone understand the right to vote is both a privilege and a responsibility of citizenship that should not be overlooked. Not only do we have federal, state and local candidates on the ballot, but even more important for marijuana smokers, we will have full legalization proposals on the ballot in Alaska and Oregon; a more complete version of decriminalization on the ballot in the District of Columbia; a medical use proposal on the ballot in Florida (the first southern state to vote on medical use); and a number of municipal proposals on the ballot in several cities in Michigan and Maine.
This is a wonderful opportunity to move legalization forward, to continue to build our political momentum, and to win back a measure of personal freedom in our lives. If you smoke marijuana, but do not vote, then don’t complain down the road when you are busted, lose your job or otherwise become a victim of marijuana prohibition.
I fully appreciate and share the disillusionment many people feel towards politics in general, and Congress in particular. For several years, Congress has been largely dysfunctional, unable to overcome partisan politics and pass even the most basic proposals needed to move the country forward, to stimulate the economy, to create more good-paying jobs, or to take the difficult steps needed to reform Social Security and Medicare. And many state legislatures are only marginally more functional.
But despite the disappointment we all feel toward most of our political leaders, we must not allow that disappointment to cause us to sit home on election-day and miss this immediate opportunity to move legalization forward, and to take another huge bite out of marijuana prohibition.
Voters More Supportive than Elected Officials
We all know the voters in this country are far more supportive of legalization than are our elected officials, both at the state and federal level. Elected officials almost always have one overriding goal, and that is to get themselves re-elected; and they have learned over the years that the safest way to do that is to support the status quo, and to avoid all potentially contentious issues. So while 58% of the public nationwide now support the full legalization of marijuana, and even larger majorities support legalizing medical use, most state legislatures, and most individual elected officials, still duck these issues, or outright oppose them.
Which underscores the importance of using the voter initiative process in the states that offer that alternative to go-around the balky state legislatures. Roughly half the states offer the voter initiative, while the other half, and the federal government, have no similar provisions. In those states, and in Congress, we have no choice but to continue to build support one elected official at a time, until we finally have sufficient support to move a legalization bill through the legislature. My best guess is we might have the political support necessary to start passing a few state legislative proposals within four or five years, and once we have 20 or so states adopting legalization, Congress should finally be willing to change federal law and permit the states to adopt whatever marijuana laws they wish, without federal interference.
But we are not there yet, which is why it is so terribly important that we get our supporters to the polls this November. We know we currently enjoy sufficient public support in the three states in play this year (AK, OR, and FL), and in the District of Columbia, that we can and will win these four initiatives if we can energize our supporters. But we also know that young voters especially tend to sit-out these so-called “off-year” elections, and we must all work to be sure they realize precisely what is at stake in these elections. To fail to vote is to be part of the problem.
If we win these four initiatives, the national and international attention currently focused on marijuana legalization will continue, and the momentum from these victories will assure that several additional states move forward with legalization proposals in 2016. With each new victory comes added credibility and a willingness of additional states to take a serious look at legalization as a policy alternative to prohibition.
Of course, the flip side is that any defeat of these initiatives will be perceived by the media, and by many elected officials, as evidence that the legalization movement has peaked, and our opponents will be emboldened to continue their misguided support for prohibition, hoping to find a way to hold back the inevitable sands of change, or at least slow the process.
As part of your outreach to supporters to assure they exercise their power to impact public policy, either directly via voter initiative, or indirectly by voting for elected officials more supportive of legalization, please keep in mind that most states (33) have a method for any eligible voter to cast a ballot before election day, either during an early voting period, or by requesting an absentee ballot.
In the three states and the District of Columbia, where versions of legalization will appear on the ballot this year, Alaska, Florida and DC permit early voting and absentee voting, without any reason required; and Oregon has an all mail voting system. So it should not be difficult for our supporters to cast their pro-pot votes on November 4 or earlier. It has taken us decades to get to this point where we can vote for full legalization; now its time for the stoners of America to come out of the closet and into the voting booth.