Marijuana Legalization in the United States

Andreas Tonckens, Kyle Morrison, Molly Foley, Kelsey Bumgardner

Federally prohibited since the 1930s, marijuana has long been a divisive topic amongst American citizens. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to passrecreational marijuana legalization, which became law in 2014. Since then, Alaska and Oregon have legalized recreational use as well. Despite the group of Western states with legalized recreational cannabis use, the initiative had yet to spread across the country in a big way until this election cycle, with five states voting on recreational legalization and another four voting on medical usage. In this post, we will look at polling and voting results in three states in which recreational use was on the ballot.

Maine: Question 1
Maine was one of the states projected by many media outlets as likely to passrecreational cannabis possession and usage. As late as October, polls were showing that 54%of Maine voters supported approving Question 1. In fact, it only passed by 2,620 votes, a50.17% to 49.83% victory. Maine stood out as a potential victory for recreational marijuana legalization not only due to its liberal leaning population, but also because of the massive funding disparities in the race. The Support Question 1 campaign raised more than $3.2 million while the two opposing groups were only able to muster around $230,000. While it was always supposed to be close, not many saw it being as close as it was. Support in populous suburbs went against party affiliation lines, with fewer democratic voters supporting Question 1 than many expected.1
Opponents of the ballot measure discussed fears over children legally obtaining and smoking cannabis (unfounded considering the same age restrictions that apply to alcohol would apply to recreational marijuana), disruption of the medical marijuana industry, and out-of-state investments harming the interests of citizens of the state.
Supporters championed common sense, community safety, and a fiduciary responsibility to create jobs and tax revenue. In terms of specific economic impact, the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review’s estimates the revenue from recreational marijuana taxes would come inaround $2,800,000 for the first fiscal year of the policy (2017-2018) and would increase to an estimated $10,700,000 in the following years.
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In the above images, we have town by town results maps for the 2016 election. The image ofthe right depicts the Presidential race while the left represents the marijuana legalization race.We put these side-by-side because there seems to be a big divide in legalization support along party lines. In the case of Maine, the Question 1 map mostly mirrors the Presidential map,alluding to the connection between party affiliation and stance on cannabis legalization. We seethis effect with the urban population centers. Looking at both maps, they were the mostsupportive and most influential voters of both Clinton and Question 1.
California: Proposition 64
Moving out West, California stood out as a national tipping point of sorts for recreational marijuana use in the United States according to Keith Stroup, founder of the pro-marijana legalization group NORML. If California, a state with considerable political clout given its 55 senators and representatives, manages to unify the voices of their representatives, it couldsignificantly alter the course of legislation in Washington D.C.
Polling showed Proposition 64 leading up through Election day with support hovering around 60% state-wide. California has long had legalized medical marijuana and often finds itself at the forefront of social issues given its liberal disposition. Again, there was overwhelming fundraising from the supporters of the proposition and less inspiring numbers from the opposition.Supporters raised almost $23 million while the opposition to Proposition 64 only garnered $2million.
Opponents of the motion all struck similar chords, harping on the fact that Proposition 64 wouldlead to excessive commercialization and inefficient regulation. Many of the opponents torecreational legalization even acknowledged they were supportive of eventual legalization in
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Looking at the maps of California’s voting on Prop 64 and the Presidential Election, wesee significant carryover from strong liberal areas to support for legalization. While there aresome counties that flip both ways, more Republican counties went against the grain of theirparty’s trends. While it may not have made a difference in California because of the coastalpopulation concentration, it demonstrates the widespread support in a state sure to influencethe future of marijuana legalization. Widespread support in California lends itself to the supportof candidates in favor of federal legalization or further state-initiated regulation.
Arizona: Proposition 205
A victory in Arizona would have been a landmark victory for nationwide marijuanaregulation and legalization. A typically conservative state, Arizona might have paved the way forother such states to follow in its path or at least open more conservative voters up to the idea.Polls leading up to the election showed Support and Opposition in something of a dead heat,with a Data Orbital poll taken six days before the vote showing Support leading 48% to 47%Opposing with 4% undecided and a 4% margin of error. Corroborating those numbers,supporters raised $5.2 million while the opposition raised $5.6.4
Government officials against legalization in Arizona were exclusively Republican and manyOrganizations backing the opposition were more conservative by nature (Arizona CatholicConference of Bishops, Az Association of County School Superintendents, etc.). Opponentstouched on three key issues in their campaign for prohibition: the growing pockets of BigMarijuana special interests, endangering the health of children, and traffic safety.
The supporters of the movement focused on social justice in terms of appropriate punishmentfor a substance objectively less societally harmful than alcohol, community safety and theremoval of the underground market, and financial implications.
From a financial perspective, according to the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee, theinitiative would have raised $123 million in annual revenue for the state and localities, pledging$55 million to full day kindergarten programs and general aid to K-12 schools.5
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From the maps, it appears that opinions on marijuana legalization in Arizona are somewhat lessstratified than party affiliation. Where the state routinely saw large margins of victory for eitherparty in its counties, Proposition 205 saw narrower margins and more uncertainty. It is relativelyunsurprising to see the Phoenix area turn out against legalization due to its conservative leaningin the election, however Tuscon’s county figured to be a strong base of support for thelegalization campaign that fell flat. Without sizable a lead in one of seemingly must-win countiesfor the support group, the motion simply could not find the votes to pass.
What’s Next?:
California, Maine, and Massachusetts have expanded legalization on both coasts, somethingthat could prompt widespread discussion about the merits of recreation marijuana use. One fifthof the country’s states have now legalized recreational use and that number only figures to growas the years go on.
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Just last year, there was an amendment to stop federal interference with state marijuana lawsthat fell short by nine votes. California alone has added 53 representatives to the list of federallawmakers who represent places where cannabis is legal.6
Here we can see support across demographics. 71% of millennials support legalization whilethat number shrinks to 57% and 56% for the next two generations respectively and 33% for theoldest group polled. According to PEW Data, only 41% of Republicans support legalization while66% of Democrats are in favor of the measure. We can see over time the country has graduallygotten less conservative, a trend that seems likely to continue. With millennial support at 71% right now, it would seem likely that in the relatively near future we will see the drugdecriminalized at the federal level.
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