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