Julian Rodriguez, of Everson, Wash., holds his two-gram packet of recreational marijuana outside Top Shelf Cannabis, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Bellingham, Wash., on the first day of legal sales in the state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
While pundits pore over exit polls in key races that could swing control of the Senate on Tuesday, marijuana advocates will be focused on several states with pot initiatives on the ballot.
From Alaska to Maine, here's a guide for what's at stake for marijuana in the midterm elections.
• Oregon and Alaska
What's being considered: In Oregon and Alaska, voters are considering statewide ballot measures that would make marijuana legal for adults and regulate it similarly to alcohol. The initiatives — Measure 91 in Oregon and Measure 2 in Alaska — would remove all legal penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older and establish a regulatory framework for licensed businesses to cultivate and sell marijuana to adults, similar to the laws enacted in Colorado and Washington state earlier this year. Medical marijuana is already legal in both Alaska and Oregon, though both states have seen previous efforts to legalize recreational pot fail.
What's at stake: If the measures pass, Alaska and Oregon would be the third and fourth states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. And pot advocates in both states have been working to get young voters likely to support legalization to the polls. “It’s a very polarized race,” Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster, told The Associated Press. “Young people like it and old people don’t. And the trouble for the 'yes' side is that old people vote and young people don’t.” To counter that paradigm, the "yes" side is spending lots of money. In Alaska, supporters of Measure 2 have raised more than $890,000. In Oregon, two groups backing Measure 91 have raised nearly $4 million.
Will the measures pass? If recent polls are to be believed, it's going to be close. According to a survey of 403 likely voters conducted by the Oregonian last week, 44 percent backed the legalization measure while 46 percent were opposed. Seven percent said they were unsure. A poll conducted by Oregon Public Broadcasting earlier in October showed 52 percent supported Measure 91 with 41 percent opposed.
“If we lose in Oregon, it will shift the national frame a little bit,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told NBC News. “But it doesn’t change the strategy and it doesn’t change the tactics."
What's being considered: In Florida, voters are considering a statewide ballot measure that would allow seriously ill people to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. The measure — Amendment 2 — would permit physicians to prescribe marijuana for a limited set of illnesses, as well as for any condition considered serious and intractable, and establish rules governing the licensing and operation of dispensaries.
What's at stake: If the amendment is approved, Florida would be the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana.
Will the measure pass? A recent poll shows it probably won't. According to a survey of 861 likely Florida voters conducted last week, 50 percent said they would vote "yes" to the amendment — 10 points below the required 60 percent needed for it to pass — while 42 percent said they'd vote "no." Eight percent were undecided. "Medical marijuana is done," Doug Kaplan, a pollster at the firm that conducted the poll, told the Orlando Sentinel. "It will not pass."
What's being considered: In Maine, two cities — Lewiston and South Portland — are considering ballot measures that would remove all legal penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older. It would remain illegal to consume or display marijuana in public.
What's at stake: If the measures are approved, Lewiston and South Portland would become the second and third of the state’s four largest cities to make marijuana legal for adults.
Will the measures pass? Last year, Portland voters approved a similar measure. Pro-legalization activists, including the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, are hoping to get a statewide measure on the ballot in 2016.
• Washington, D.C.
What's being considered: Voters are looking at a measure that would make possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older. The measure — Initiative 71 — would also allow adults to cultivate up to six plants in their homes. Unlike the measures in Alaska, Oregon and elsewhere, the initiative in Washington, D.C., does not address the issue of regulating sales or commercial cultivation.
What's at stake: While the federal government has left it up to states and municipalities to regulate marijuana, legalization of recreational marijuana in the nation's capital would be a symbolic achievement for the pro-pot lobby.
Will the measure pass? Probably. A poll conducted last month showed nearly 66 percent of likely D.C. voters favored the initiative. Part of the reason is race. Roughly half the district’s 646,000 residents are black, AP notes, and a 2010 study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans in Washington, D.C., were eight times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana possession charges. According to the ACLU, 91 percent of those arrested that year were black.
What's being considered: Nothing today, but the votes in Alaska and Oregon could tell us a lot about what happens in 2016, when marijuana activists plan to put the legalization of recreational marijuana on the ballot in California. "This is kind of a warm-up for 2016," Richard Baca, editor of The Cannabist, told NPR, "when the presidential election comes on board and when the pro-marijuana lobby tries to legalize recreational cannabis in California, which is pretty much the gold standard that they have been waiting for."
What's at stake: In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, but it has yet to approve marijuana for recreational use. If it does, pot activists believe it will expedite legalization on a federal level.
“It’s not easy to overcome 80 years of prohibition and anti-marijuana propaganda,” Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a news release. “But public attitudes are clearly shifting on this issue, and it’s only a matter of time before that is reflected in laws nationwide.”