With the launch of a nationwide get-out-the-vote campaign this week, marijuana legalization advocates hope to muster cannabis consumers as a powerful voting bloc this November and maintain that momentum for elections to come.
Spark the Vote, a new effort by the nonpartisan Cannabis Consumer Policy Council (CCPC), is deploying in eight states, organizers said in a video presentation on Wednesday, with plans to expand further. On-the-ground “action teams” will be stationed at marijuana retail stores and cannabis-friendly businesses, they said, to register consumers to vote and encourage them to stay politically active. The initiative will also host virtual education and organizing sessions.
“Cannabis voters are an incredibly diverse and growing voting bloc that have already made real impacts in state and local elections,” the campaign said in a press release. “In an era where presidential elections are regularly decided by less than a million votes, cannabis consumers have a huge role to play in local, state and federal elections.”
Initially the program will launch in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Utah, the group said. All those states have legalized medical marijuana, and all but New Jersey and Utah have legalized cannabis for adults, with New Jersey set to vote on an adult-use legalization referendum in November.
— Spark The Vote 2020 (@Spark_The_Vote) September 16, 2020
In a Zoom call on Wednesday to announce Spark the Vote, CPCC Executive Director Nate Bradley said that after working for the increasingly influential cannabis industry for seven years, he came to believe “it’s imperative that we consumers have that same voice.”
“One of the things that we’ve seen over the last few years, as the movement to end cannabis prohibition has begun to move across the country and the world as a whole: A lot of people have started to believe the fight is over,” Bradley said. “The reality is that it’s only just starting.”
Marijuana advocates and organizers have long stressed the untapped potential of voters who support legalization. Recent polling shows nearly two-thirds of Americans favor making cannabis legal for all adults, with considerable support across party lines. More than 90 percent of Americans, meanwhile, said marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational purposes.
Nearly half (46 percent) of cannabis consumers identify as politically independent, according to Jimmy Fremgen, Spark the Vote’s campaign director, “further underlining the point that we are not just Democrats, we are not just Republicans, we are all over the political spectrum and we are poised to make an impact up and down the ballot in 2020.”
With a number of key issues being considered at various levels of government right now—including state-level legalization measures, cannabis banking and an expected House of Representatives vote next week on federal legalization—the project hopes to push politicians into offering more than lip service to the cannabis community.
“Pandering on legalization is just not going to cut it for candidates this year,” Fremgen said.
CCPC has partnered with a number of organizations to launch the project, including the United Core Alliance, which focuses on social equity in cannabis, and Turnout Nation, which builds tools to encourage voter turnout. Legalization advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is also involved, as are the Teamsters, the Cannabis Voter Project and the Cannabis Equity Alliance.
“We really need equity and representation moving forward into this cannabis space,” Brandon Bolton, director of the United Core Alliance, said on Wednesday’s Zoom call. “Spark the Vote actually is assisting us in learning how we can reform the policy for social equity.”
Sabrina Fendrick, who works as the public affairs officer for Berkeley Patients Group, the nation’s longest continuously operating dispensary, is heading up the project’s retail partnerships.
“We’ve never been able to engage cannabis consumers like this before in such a concentrated effort,” Fendrick, who previously served as a staffer for NORML, said, adding that Spark the Vote is “going to be invaluable to ensuring that our consumers, our constituencies, have a voice and are represented in the public debate.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Bradley, CCPC’s executive director, told Marijuana Moment that 31 retail locations across eight states were expected to participate in the program at launch, although partnerships in Arizona and New Jersey were still pending confirmation. Some of the partners already confirmed include A Therapeutic Alternative, Berkeley Patients Group, Caliva and Higher Path in California; Mission Dispensary locations in Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan; NuLeaf in Nevada; and Dragonfly Wellness in Utah.
“In the last five minutes I got a text saying that the SPARC chain of dispensaries are coming online,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email Wednesday. “Right before that I got word that the Hudson Valley Cannabis Industry [Association] was joining.” A number of other retail and industry partners are listed on the campaign’s website.
Despite the diversity of political opinions held by marijuana consumers and Spark the Vote’s nonpartisan approach, Fremgen, the campaign director, said there are certain issues on which many in the cannabis community agree: “They care about the cost of health care,” he said, noting that many veterans use cannabis. “We care about access to good jobs, social and criminal justice, the environment and many more issues.”
Fendrick at Berkeley Patients Group said the initiative continues the “activism and a heightened sense of social responsibility” that helped legalize cannabis in the first place.
“Social justice, compassion and citizen participation is part of our company’s story,” she said, as well as part of the greater social backdrop that helped fuel the legalization movement in the 1980s and ’90s, when marijuana emerged as a potent tool to manage HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Kimberly Cargille, executive director for the Sacramento-based dispensary A Therapeutic Alternative, said in a statement that the get-out-the-vote efforts have been designed to avoid close personal contact in order to limit the spread of COVID-19,
“These socially distanced stations,“ Cargille said, “will help get thousands of cannabis consumers safely registered, and mobilized in a way that will legitimize cannabis as a long-overdue mainstream policy issue.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen
Cory Booker Urges New Jersey Voters To Legalize Marijuana As Data Shows Supporters Outraising Opponents
Another one of the most prominent elected officials in New Jersey is urging the state’s voters to approve a marijuana legalization referendum that’s on their ballots next week. Meanwhile, new campaign finance data released by the state shows that supporters of the cannabis reform measure are outraising opponents by more than a 200-to-1 ratio.
“This is an important question,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a new video published by the NJ CAN 2020 campaign on Wednesday. “I hope as you fill out the front of your ballot, you will look at the back and see that question, ballot question number one, and that you will vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey for adult use. We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”
Booker, who has been a leading champion for federal cannabis reform in Congress, said that “we have seen how the drug war has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”
“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help. They’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said, adding that African Americans, Latinos and low-income people are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement.
Meanwhile, a report released on Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised $2,074,030 in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.
“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”
The new numbers reflect data filed through October 20, and additional post-election spending data will be released on December 1.
Earlier numbers released two weeks ago pegged the fundraising disparity at a ratio of nearly 130 to 1.
If voters approve the referendum, legal recreational marijuana sales could potentially begin within mere weeks through the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries under a plan laid out this week by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
A hearing to get a head start on planning legal cannabis implementation was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when the senator went into quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Booker, for his part, is framing legalization as a matter of criminal justice reform.
“It will help us to join with other states who are seeing through legalizing you could better regulate its usage, you can have more and more tax dollars that can be applied to state priorities, from education to treatment,” Booker said in his new video. “And, we see how we begin to end what has been a very dark and unfair chapter in criminal justice in America.”
In any case, if polling is any indication, it appears that voters are poised to pass the cannabis referendum on their ballots next week.
A survey released last week found that that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the marijuana referendum. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.
The results are statistically consistent with three prior polls from the same firm, as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released this month by Stockton University showed three-to-one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has also been actively campaigning in favor of the referendum, participating in fundraisers and ads to encourage voters to approve it.
For example, the governor recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.
“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”
Murphy also recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
NJ CAN 2020 released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads this month, after having published one prior ad.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.
Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week
A campaign opposing a marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona recently released a series of ads imploring voters to reject the proposal.
The digital spots—which range from 16 to 42 seconds in length—argue that cannabis reform would negatively impact young people, increase impaired driving and create workplace risks. In doing so, they make misleading claims about what the proposed Arizona law would allow and what has occurred in other states that have already enacted legalization.
Here’s each ad and script, along with some broader context on the accuracy of the claims:
“When Washington State legalized marijuana, I wasn’t too concerned. What began happening with students, however, was alarming. Marijuana possession increased. We maintained a zero drug policy in our district, and parents and students became confused when students were disciplined for possession of marijuana. Suspensions increased and students lost valuable classroom time. If I could give one piece of advice from this Democrat, school principal from Washington to my new Arizona neighbors vote ‘no’ on 207. It won’t provide the support needed to deal with the problems this law will create. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
Actually, a study published last year by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth marijuana use declined in Washington State’s largest metropolitan county after legalization. Other research has reached similar conclusions.
“Marijuana use damages the developing brain of teenagers. Unfortunately, where marijuana is legal for adults, more teens get it and use it. Under Prop. 207, marijuana-laced candies, cookies and vape pens—all very appealing to teens—are not only legal but marijuana marketers can advertise them on TV, radio and social media, a teen favorite. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative states that any advertising “involving direct, individualized communication or dialogue shall use a method of age affirmation is twenty-one years of age or older before engaging in that communication or dialogue.”
“Police pull over the driver next to you for swerving, but there’s no standard of impairment. It’s 2021, and using marijuana is legal right under Prop. 207. There’s no roadside test to gauge marijuana impairment, so they let it go. Nearly 70 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit to driving stoned. Their traffic deaths doubled after legalization. Keep stoned drivers off Arizona roads. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative explicitly states that it “does not allow driving, flying or boating while impaired by marijuana to even the slightest degree.”
“When you drop your child off at daycare, you expect the caregiver to be sober. Under Prop. 207, employers can only prohibit using marijuana at work. There’s nothing stopping employees from using and then heading to the daycare or elderly care facility or the worksite. Prop 207. ties the hands of employers who want to keep a drug-free workplace. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative says it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” It also “does not restrict the rights of employers, schools, day care centers, adult day care facilities, health care facilities or corrections facilities to prohibit or regulate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter when such conduct occurs on or in their properties.”
Despite the questionable ad splurge from Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, convincing enough people to vote against the legalization proposal will be a steep task days out from the election, recent polling suggests.
A firm that’s been consistently tracking where residents stand on candidates and ballot questions found that 55 percent of likely voters favor Proposition 207 in a survey released earlier this month. A separate, recent survey showed 56 percent support among registered voters.
Both of those results are largely consistent with an internal poll Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the initiative, shared with Marijuana Moment last month.
These survey results represent promising signals to reform advocates that Arizona is ready to enact legalization, unlike in 2016 when voters rejected a similar proposal.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly also indicated this month that he is inclined to back the legal cannabis measure.
If the Arizona measure is approved by voters, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll
Montana voters appear poised to approve a proposal to legalize marijuana next week, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Montana State University (MSU) Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot, while 38 percent are opposed. Seven percent remain undecided.
There is a stark partisan divide on the measure, with 77 percent of Democrats in favor, and only 31 percent of Republicans agreeing. Sixty-three percent of independents back the reform.
Ending marijuana prohibition has majority support among both men and women in the state, and from voter groups under the age of 65. Those older than that are narrowly divided on legalizing cannabis.
A separate survey released earlier this month showed the measure leading, but without outright majority support. That poll, conducted by a separate team at MSU, found that Montana voters support marijuana legalization, 49 percent to 39 percent.
The new numbers showing continued voter backing for marijuana legalization comes a week after the state Supreme Court rejected a request to block the initiative. The case was filed by opponents who argued that the measure violates the state Constitution by appropriating funds to specific programs.
Under the proposal, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.
In addition to the cannabis revenue earmarked for land, water and wildlife conservation programs, the proposal aims to send funds toward veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care and local governments, with the rest being pegged to the general fund.
The state Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge but said that opponents needed to take up the issue in lower courts first, which they said they plan to do.
Also this month, a Montana-based federal prosecutor appointed by President Trump sent a press release highlighting his concerns that legalizing cannabis in the state could cause public health and safety harms.
Montana voters will actually see two cannabis questions on their ballots. A statutory measure to legalize marijuana for adult use would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home, while a separate constitutional amendment stipulates that only those 21 and older could access the market.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.