Marijuana, Midterms and Millennials

Marijuana is playing a key role in this year’s US midterms for three important reasons: a few states are voting to legalize retail and medical use of the drug, politicians are increasingly including cannabis legalization in their campaign platforms, and it’s a growing issue that can help get millennials out to vote.

Currently nine states and DC allow recreational use, and 31 states allow medical use. Two more states – Michigan and North Dakota – will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana on Tuesday, while another two states – Utah and Missouri – will vote on legalizing medical cannabis.

Here’s the latest polling data on what to expect:

  • Michigan will likely be the first Midwest state to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales. Fifty-seven percent of 600 likely voters said they would vote in favor of legalization in a recent poll (October 25-27) conducted by The Detroit News and WDIV. Just 40% were opposed. A high millennial turnout would help, with 86% of 18 to 29 year old likely voters in favor of legalization compared to just 38.5% of respondents older than 65.
    Link to the poll here.
  • North Dakota will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years and older, but it’s still a toss-up. The measure would also stop criminal prosecution of nonviolent marijuana activity, create a process to expunge previous marijuana convictions and impose penalties for those who distribute the drug to minors.
    A poll in mid-October of +400 voters found a slight majority (51%) would support the measure versus 36% who would vote no and 13% who were undecided. Unsurprisingly, voters under 50 are more likely to vote yes, so millennial turnout is especially crucial for the measure’s chances of passing in this state. Although this recent poll showed majority support, there’s also been other polls that aren’t as promising.
    Source: The Kitchen’s Group Poll
  • Utah and Missouri will vote on medical use, but results here could be mixed. Utah is voting on allowing medical use and setting up state-controlled medical marijuana dispensaries. Missouri is voting between three measures that would legalize medical cannabis use but differ on the sales tax figure and what that revenue would fund. While Missouri’s measure has broad support, having three measures on the ballot could prove confusing and potentially divide voters enough that cause the proposals to fail.
    Moreover, Utah’s medical marijuana measure is now uncertain after months of looking like it would pass. A recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed a yes vote just above 50%, as support for the initiative has dropped by around 15 percentage points since June; only 3% of voters are still undecided. The problem: “A big erosion of support among active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands out in the survey.” Nevertheless, should it fail, the Legislature will likely legalize medical marijuana anyways.
    Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Bottom line, over one in five Americans already live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. Not only have elections over the past few years added to that tally, but now state legislatures as of this year have weighed in (Vermont was the first for retail use). A growing number of politicians are also including marijuana legalization in their campaign platforms. New Jersey’s new governor ran on it and the state’s legislature is currently trying to legalize retail use and sales. Once that happens and if Michigan and North Dakota pass recreational use this Tuesday, over a quarter of Americans will live in a state that allows recreational marijuana (roughly 90 million people).

Marijuana is also playing a role in a few tight gubernatorial races this Tuesday. Democratic candidates in Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, and Minnesota are running on legalizing recreational marijuana, especially for the potential tax revenue to help their budget deficits. The only Republican candidate in these states who doesn’t oppose legalizing retail use is in Connecticut, although he said it is not a priority for him. Marijuana legalization has also come up in Senate races, with Democrat Beto O’Rourke competing for Ted Cruz’s Texas seat; the latter is opposed while the former supports legalization.

We’ve been saying high voter turnout among millennials will be necessary for Democrats to win back both the House and Senate, so all the marijuana measures and candidates including it in their campaigns should help.Millennials are set to exceed Baby Boomers as a share of the American electorate and most support legalizing recreational marijuana, so this issue will also be important in getting them to the polls in 2020.

Aside from capturing the millennial vote, Republicans may want to reevaluate their position on marijuana legalization as Gallup reported that overall American support just reached a new high for a third year in a row. Two in three (66%) people currently favor cannabis legalization compared to just 12% when Gallup first started asking Americans in 1969. It took until 2013 to gain majority support, or one year after Colorado and Washington voters legalized retail cannabis use. Even the majority of Republicans support marijuana legalization as of last year, and their support grew again this year to 53%. Support also reached new highs for Democrats (75%) and Independents (71%).

We’ll update you on what passes this Tuesday after the Midterms (we expect “pot stocks” to move on the results as well). In the meantime, you can read all the details of each initiative on the ballots here in Rolling Stone.

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