The second Tuesday in November will bring about more than just a blessed end to the grim presidential race. It might also be the day that five more states will legalize recreational marijuana.
Voters in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California — all of which have legalized medicinal marijuana — will tackle the issue on Election Day. Recreational weed is already legal in Washington D.C., Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington state. Should the five additional states all vote in favor of legalization, the drug will be recreationally legal for approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population.
So what's the likelihood of this happening? Herewith, a handy guide to the five states facing the issue.
The Grand Canyon state's Proposition 205, if approved, would allow for residents over the age of 21 to possess marijuana, consume it and grow an unspecified number of plants on their property. It would also establish the path for businesses to offer recreational marijuana.
Legal recreational marijuana seems like it would be a tough sell in the traditionally Republican state, since most other territories that have legalized the drug are more left-leaning. Arizona, however, has some deep libertarian roots; noted libertarian Barry Goldwater served as senator for Arizona for 30 years. Libertarianism and weed legalization pair together nicely; for example, many believe that desire to keep the government out of citizens' affairs was the reason that Alaska legalized the drug in 2014.
Arizona's libertarian streak, however, did not stop the state's largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, from urging voters to reject 205. The Phoenix paper's editorial board thought the initiative would put children at risk and was a "money grab" by the medical marijuana industry.
As for the people of Arizona (rather than the press), the polls aren't particularly illuminating. A Sept. 7 Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite poll shows a significant margin of victory for the leafy green, with 50 percent of respondents voicing approval for Proposition 205, 40 percent saying they were against the measure and 10 percent declaring themselves undecided. But OH Predictive insights conducted a poll at the end of September with quite different results: 47 percent of respondents were against the proposition, 43 percent were in favor and 10 percent remained undecided. The most recent poll, from Data Orbital, shows the slimmest margin for legalization: 44 percent for legalization, 45 percent against it and 5 percent undecided.
Campaigns both for and against Proposition 205 have been predictably contentious. Both groups have raised millions of dollars, though the pro-legalization campaign might have spent most of their war chest just getting the proposal on the ballot. Meanwhile, one of the largest donors to the anti-pot campaign has been painkiller manufacturer Insys Therapeutics, which gave $500,000. (Interesting and maybe-relevant side note: Insys Therapeutics has only one product, according to the Tucson Daily Star. It's "an opiate spray to treat pain for cancer patients.")
Though the pro-proposition group may have spent a considerable amount on getting the measure up for a vote, their financial standing is stronger than that of their opponents. An overall assessment of funds shows the support camp having raised $3.1 million to the opposition's $1.8 million.
With the polls standing so close, it's tough to say how Arizona will vote Nov. 8, though the pro-pot campaign's superior funds might make the difference.
The Pine Tree State is well-positioned for the legalization of recreational marijuana as voters decide to answer Question 1 come Election Day. The ballot initiative would allow 21-year-olds to consume and possess the sweet leaf and introduce a scheme to set up retail shops in the state.
There are two main reasons that Maine will most likely vote to approve recreational marijuana.
First, the polls show a definite trend in favor of legalization. A Critical Insights tracking poll released in May showed strong support for legalization, with 55 percent of Mainers in favor and 41 percent saying that they leaned negative or would definitely vote no. More recently, a Portland Press Herald poll of likely voters, released at the end of September, showed 53 percent support for legalization, 38 percent against the measure and 10 percent undecided.
Second, the two sides have received drastically different amounts of financial support. The pro-marijuana campaign has raised $3.2 million to support their argument as of Oct. 31, while the opposition camps have raised $233,000, according to Ballotpedia.
But a paltry coffer hasn't stopped fledgling opposition groups from putting together negative ads.
Despite strong public support for legalization and the campaign's financial advantages, Maine's Republican Governor Paul LePage (a loyal Trump supporter who believes the election will be rigged in his state) from vocally opposing Question 1.
He distributed a video citing the reasons he's against legalization, including the dangers posed to children and an increase in traffic collisions.
Alas, LePage's understanding of the problems faced by Colorado and Washington after legalizing marijuana run completely counter to a new October study from the Drug Policy Alliance, which found:
Question 4 faces Bay State voters on Election Day, and it's a bit more complicated. Massachusetts' pot legalization initiative is a widespread measure that covers lots of bases: possession, consumption, retail stores and personal plants.
On the face of it, Massachusetts has a good chance at legalizing recreational marijuana. The latest poll, issued by WBUR/MassINC Polling Group on Oct. 19, shows 55 percent favorability for Question 4, with only 40 percent of voters against it. A remaining 5 percent stands undecided. Public support of the issue has been relatively consistent, with five of seven polls conducted this year showing a majority of voters in favor of legalization.
The campaigns on both sides of the issue have been very active in terms of ads and raising funds. One particularly grim ad from the "No on 4" camp raised quite a stir when it was released Oct. 18; it portrays a broken, post-legalization landscape filled with public smokers, pot stores on every corner and active marketing of the drug to children.
The "Yes on 4" team was more pragmatic in its advertising approach, enlisting a medical professional to vouch for the need to promote testing and legalization.
When it comes to cold, hard cash, the pro-legalization crew has a clear advantage. According to Ballotpedia, as of Oct. 31, Team Yes has raised $3.6 million, whereas the opposition has only managed to collect a little over $634,000.
With the difference in war chests and the polls showing popular support, Massachusetts is likely to join the movement to legalize recreational marijuana.
The Silver State will vote on Question 2, which addresses possession, consumption, cultivation and the sale of marijuana. Las Vegas visitors will probably end up adding "getting legally high" to the list of things that happen in Sin City (and stay in Sin City), but the fight to get there has been contentious.
Even though there hasn't been a poll in the past month, public opinion has been firmly in support of marijuana legalization through 2016, though the margin might be narrowing. In July, support for legalization stood at 50 percent, with 41 percent of voters opposed with 9 percent undecided according to a Rasmussen poll. Two of the most recent polls, released at the end of September, show very different levels of support. The shows 47 percent for and 46 percent against with 7 percent undecided. The Suffolk University Poll, which was released at the same time, shows an enormous 57 percent of voters for legalization, with 33 percent against with 10 percent undecided.
The support campaign started off in strong form with $2.8 million raised, and it looked like it had a monopoly on messaging until some weighty opposition sprung up.
That opposition is Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The conservative businessman donated $2 million to the against campaign, raising their total funding to $2.08 million. (Adelson's fight against pot isn't limited to Nevada: he has donated to anti-legalization efforts across the country, including Massachusetts and Florida's medical marijuana ballot initiatives.)
But wait, there's more: Adelson has seemingly influenced the editorial stance of the largest newspaper in Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The paper wrote in favor of marijuana legalization in 2014 as a way to ease the drug war. But after Adelson purchased the Review-Journal in December 2015 for $140 million, the paper changed its tune: In June, the editorial board came out against Question 2 as a "bad bet for Nevada."
Bad news for billionaires: Money can only buy so much when it comes to the power of the people. If the polls are any indication, popular support for recreational marijuana may well prove unbeatable.
California was the first state to deregulate marijuana for medicinal use in 1996. Now it will decide whether it wants to open the doors to recreational pot. Not surprisingly, it has become the most high profile legalization campaign in the country, with by far the most money spent on trying to persuade votes.
Proposition 64, which would allow Californians over 21 to possess and consume recreational marijuana, and also institute a retail system, will probably succeed.
For one thing, the polling heavily favors legalization. From the Probolsky Research poll conducted in February to the SurveyUSA poll released a few weeks ago, the support for Proposition 64 has been constant. The most recent SurveyUSA poll shows the weakest margin of at least eight polls taken this year, and even then it found 51 percent for legalization and 40 percent against, with 9 percent undecided.
Moreover, the pro-legalization campaign has raised a tremendous amount of money: $22 million, according to Ballotpedia as of Oct. 31. The opposition has raised $2.05 million, an amount that would be considerable in most states but pales in comparison to the pro-initiative war chest.
As for the media's take, many newspaper editorials have been penned for either side of the issue. Nevertheless, most reputable sources are relatively certain that California will welcome recreational marijuana with open, paraphernalia-filled arms.
These five states aren't the only ones facing pot at the polling place: Voters in Florida, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. If approved, those states will join the ranks of 25 other states and District of Columbia, all of which have voted in favor of medicinal weed.
With the possible exception of Arizona, where close polls indicate the legalization of recreational marijuana is not a sure bet, the U.S. looks poised for a fresh wave of popular support in favor of the drug. The American people are more eager than ever for a dank democracy.