Can 2016 Marijuana Ballot Initiatives Ignite A Fire Under Millennial Voters?


Millennial and youth voters in America care more than any other generation about the legalization of marijuana, but will that be enough to drive them to the polls for November’s pivotal election?

There are as many as 13 pending ballot initiatives to legalize either adult recreational marijuana use or medical marijuana, with initiatives in nine states having already qualified to be on the ballot in November. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and Oklahoma will vote to legalize medical marijuana, while Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will decide whether to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

The cannabis industry in the U.S. has arguably never faced a more monumental decision on its future and it’s a decision America’s younger generations care about.

According to the Pew Research Center, 63% of Republican millennials, and 77% of their Democratic-leaning counterparts, support the legalization of marijuana. And while Democrats across generations are largely in favor of legalization, 47% of Republican gen. Xers, 38% of baby boomers and 17% of the silent generation support the cause.

For a better chance for the nine ballot initiatives to pass in November, millennial voters will need to turn out in droves, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Increased turnout from young voters could also have a substantial impact on the presidential election. According to a July Pew post, Hillary Clinton holds a 60% to 30% advantage over Donald Trump among young voters – ages 18 to 29. Clinton’s lead falls to 47% when Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson – who just edges Trump among young voters – is added to the mix.

Historically, about half of all eligible millennial voters head to the polls during presidential elections: 46% in 2004, 50% in 2008 and 46% in 2012, according to Pew.

In Colorado in 2012, however, the voter turnout rate among millennials was more than 10 percentage points higher than the national average. More than 55% of Colorado’s eligible youth voted, and the state’s marijuana ballot measure – full legalization – passed.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which operates out of Tufts University, in 2014, looked at states with controversial ballot measures, such as marijuana legalization, and how that affected youth voter turnout. Senior researcher at CIRCLE, Felicia Sullivan, said it’s tough to pinpoint the impact ballot issues have on turnout.

CIRCLE’s analysis found controversial ballot measures may have subtle, indirect effects on turnout, but couldn’t conclude they automatically increased turnout of young voters.

While Colorado saw an increase in turnout in 2012, youth turnout in Washington state followed the national trend in 2012 when it too had a ballot measure to legalize marijuana, which passed, along with an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage. And in 2008 Arizona presented a question about banning same-sex marriage on the ballot and turnout among youth voters followed the national trend.

Some advocates in the cannabis industry, such as the Marijuana Policy Project’s communication manager Morgan Fox, actually look at the turnout issue through the opposite lens: Presidential elections have higher turnout rates among demographics that favor legalization.

“So we try to place them on the ballot during those elections for a better chance at victory,” he said in an email. “I think it is plausible that the presence of marijuana initiatives could increase turnout among supportive demographics, but it is just as possible that it increases turnout for people looking to defeat such measures who may not have voted otherwise.”

While undoubtedly appealing to younger voters, it takes more for these initiatives to pass, including campaigns to mobilize voters, Sullivan said. Armentano said that’s why in California – an important battle ground where NORML is heavily involved – his organization is also targeting women with children for its campaign, as “they tend to swing the issue one way or another,” he said.

In some cases getting the word out still might not be enough, as some states have several ballot initiatives coming up in November. That also makes it more difficult to determine what exactly drew young voters to the polls. In Massachusetts, for example, the marijuana legalization initiative shares the ballot with a hot-button charter school initiative.

“It’s hard to speak to these initiatives and campaigns in broad terms,” Armentano said. “Massachusetts is a significant state in play and it seems poised to pass. It’s really the presidential candidates that often dictate voter turnout, and how these two candidates fare with younger voters I think is still up for debate.

“If young voters don’t connect with them, they might stay home.”

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Can 2016 Marijuana Ballot Initiatives Ignite A Fire Under Millennial Voters?
Author: Trey Williams
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