The 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as one of the most important years in marijuana history. It provided validation that two trailblazer states — Washington and Colorado — had made the right decision two years prior in pushing through a voter-passed ballot initiative, allowing for the possession and consumption of adults. Many were skeptical when those states passed their respective laws, but in 2014, they suddenly don’t look so crazy.
Following this year’s election cycle, two more states — Oregon and Alaska — and the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., now have legalized marijuana for themselves. While it wasn’t completely unexpected, it is still a bit jarring for many people to comprehend. Ten years ago, or even five years ago, having any state, let alone four plus Washington D.C., with legal marijuana was inconceivable. But it appears public perception has gone through a massive flip in a relative short amount of time, and now states will be rolling in new tax revenues, will likely see their crime rates drop, and also save in terms of law enforcement costs.
It’s a very exciting time for cannabis activists. But hold onto your hats, because 2016 is going to blow the lid off the whole thing.
What makes 2016 so special? Well, it will be the third election cycle in which marijuana legalization measures will be on ballots across the country. While 2014 led some more credence to the legalization movement, it is still largely considered an “experiment” by many, seeing as how these laws still conflict with federal law, and that the feds themselves have really yet to choose one side or the other. With legalization hitting the nation’s capital, and three of the four states making up the Pacific coast, the feds will likely need to weigh in within the next several months.
There are a handful of states that are looking at getting measures on the 2016 ballot, and if even a few of them are able to successfully get the votes to put them into law, suddenly marijuana legalization is no longer simply an experiment.
Leading the way headed into 2016 is the nation’s most populous state, California. Efforts are underway, and have been for sometime, to finally get cannabis into a position of full-legality, and 2016 looks like it will be the first time it has actually been on the ballot, and up for voters to decide on. According to San Diego-based news outlet KUSI, the Marijuana Policy Project — which ran the campaign during 2012 in Colorado — is already on the ground conjuring up support.
Polling conducted in California prior to this year’s midterms show that Californians already support marijuana legalization by a fairly wide margin. Tulchin Research’s work show that 65% of California residents support a measure to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis. Over the next two years, as Oregon, Alaska and D.C. all rack up tax revenues and their residents go about their lives without fear of arrest for possession, that margin could easily widen. In fact, the state’s Democratic party has already added it to their platform for the next election cycle.
In addition to California, it looks as though Massachusetts, Arizona and Nevada could also be gearing up to legalize in 2016. Now, if all three of those states opt to do so (Arizona would be the only questionable one), that would bring the total up to eight states — not counting D.C. — which is 16% of the country. That may be enough to actually tip the scales and lead to a cascade of victories in other states in 2020 and 2022. Once voters in other states realize that the sky does not fall upon legalization, they’ll probably be more inclined to vote in support.
Another reason to think 2016 may be even better than 2014? More voters will show up, being a presidential election year, and it looks as though they’re likely to vote more progressive. “Voter turnout tends to be much higher in presidential election years,” Mason Tvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Huffington Post. “We believe a 2016 initiative will best demonstrate just how much support there is for ending marijuana prohibition in California.”
California — the nation’s most populous state, and eighth largest economy in the world, all on its own — is the biggest domino that needs to fall, and it looks like 2016 is the year that it will happen. If the entire west coast, and a few other states legalize along the way, it’s hard to imagine the trend reversing itself, or the feds pulling the plug on the whole thing.
So if you think 2014 was a big deal for the legalization effort, buckle up. 2016 is due to provide some real fireworks.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger