With the marijuana legalization vote coming up in November, I’m hearing some people say that it’s practically a sure thing â€” after all, the logic is there, and everybody in California smokes pot already.
Well, I thought I’d take a little more realistic look at what reformers are facing.
Caveat: I’m no expert in voting trends or California, so this is not intended to be anything definitive; rather it’s a set of points to consider, or a jumping-off point for further discussion.
The latest Gallup poll shows 44% of Americans support legalization â€” an all-time high â€” and in the west, that number goes up to 53%. Not bad, but far from a sure thing.
While it’s certainly an over-simplification, there’s some truth to the notion that those who have tried marijuana at some point in their lives are more likely to be sympathetic to legalization (since they realize first hand that much of the hype is false). So let’s take a look at those numbers.
Pacific West Marijuana use (2008 SAMHSA)
|Age 26 and over
Now, based on past use, 45-50% (lifetime use) may be sympathetic, but is that a powerful enough factor to actually get them out to vote in November? Uncertain. Past month is more of an indicator of strong motivation.
Now, let’s take a look at midterm voting trends.
Californians voting in 2006 election
The old people are more likely to vote. The young people are more likely to support legalization.
Now the good news is that mid-term elections tend to have low turnout, so a motivated group getting out the vote can have a more significant impact. That could change, however, given the level of public interest in the financial woes of the state and the country, or if there is a hotly contested race for Congress.
But as you can see, it’s about far more than getting the marijuana enthusiasts to vote. (In fact, even within the marijuana enthusiasts, you may have to contend with the bottom-feeders who prefer to keep it illegal, either through financial interest or some misguided “I don’t want the government taxing my pot” nonsense.)
The key is going to be motivating the casually sympathetic (all those lifetime marijuana users who haven’t touched it in years and have kids of their own), and those who may not be sympathetic to marijuana use at all.
That probably means focusing on arguments that do not require an affinity of use, such as:
- Economic value of legalization (reduced costs, increased tax revenue)
- Practical value of regulation (age limits, place and time restrictions)
- Reduction of violence (street and Mexico)
- Environmental protection (illegal grows in public lands)
- The Economic self-interest of those opposing legalization (law enforcement unions, prison guard unions, cartels, DEA, etc.)
Opponents will do everything they can to get us sidetracked arguing over whether marijuana is dangerous or not.
Given the cognitive distortion factor I’ve discussed before, it’s going to take a lot of repetition to get people to actually hear the right message. To begin with, there will be a lot of discussions like this:
Reformer: Itâ€™s time to stop giving in to the criminals and lobbyists at the drug war trough and begin the legal regulation of cannabis so we can take back control, set appropriate age limits, and de-fund the criminals. As a side benefit, we could also dramatically help the budget.
Listener: Marijuana bad.
Don’t get cocky. California is a tricky state and doesn’t fall in line in the ways that some people think. After all, it seemed a sure thing that if any state would protect gay marriage at the polls, it would be California, but the last election showed that to be a miscalculation.
“Your gun control policy doesn’t have anything to do with public safety, and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about, you don’t like the people who do like guns. You don’t like the people.” â€” Ainsley Hayes, “The West Wing”
I’m not quite sure how to say this, but there’s a sociological phenomenon that sometimes results in a backlash factor in situations where a type of social change becomes publicly visible. Let’s call it the “uppity” factor. “Good” people may say that they support rights for blacks/gays/potheads in general, but become annoyed when they become uppity — flaunting their blackness or gayness or dope-ness in public as if they were equals, rather than keeping it hidden behind closed doors where it belongs.
Let’s face it. California cannabis culture can appear uppity. That doesn’t mean that people should stop being who they are â€” that’s impossible (and wrong). But awareness of the phenomenon can help with strategy.
So, maybe “Free the Weed” and “Ganja Rulez” may not be the best slogans for the legalization movement. Public appearances by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition will have an extra powerful impact. People in suits going door to door will lend the movement credibility. Professional-looking printed materials that are well-designed (and proofed!), focusing on facts (preferably sourced), are essential. These are obvious things, but still important to remember.
Again, I’m no expert, and these are just some ruminations on what the California legalization effort may face. I’m sure others have thought this through even more thoroughly, but this might help get some discussions going. With enough effort and the right message, I think success is possible, but certainly not easy.