Marijuana activists and political junkies in general can barely wait for 2016 to begin, and the list-making has been in full flower for months. But the likelihood of full adult use legalization may depend as much on the nuts and bolts of petition deadlines or legislative calendars as it does on history, social attitudes and the state of medical marijuana regulation. What follows is not so much a tip sheet as a to-do list.
Of course, despite surging support for legalization, all efforts could be for naught on the inauguration of a prohibitionist president in January 2017. States also rotate on and off the most likely list, depending on the vagaries of local politics, but some appear with remarkable consistency:
Nevada is at the top of everyone’s list, in part, because the Initiative to Tax and Regulate Marijuana (IP 1) is already guaranteed a spot on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot. Nevada’s initiative process is unique in that it requires the gathering and vetting of signatures a full year in advance.
The challenge now is to harness support. Proponents reportedly expect to spend between $2 million and $4 million, with ads beginning in earnest two to three months before Election Day. The hidden hand is whether casino magnate Sheldon Adelson or some other opponent with deep pockets, weigh in on the other side to try to kill adult use legalization in Nevada.
California also makes every list, not because it is a slam dunk, but because no advocate can bear to think of losing it. The challenge is twofold.
First is the risk that the competing initiative proposals may split the voting. At various points there seem to have been as many as 16 different proposals, although consensus seems to be building behind the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. AUMA also has the support of Napster billionaire Sean Parker, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project.
In order to appear on the ballot, any initiative must qualify at least 131 days before the next statewide election. At the very latest, then, that would be the end of June. It seems like a generous amount of time, but California is an enormous state that is difficult and expensive to organize with residents in as many as 11 media markets.
Maine is also a consistent presence on every list. It has a medical marijuana program that has, so far, been devoid of drama.
The state has also had competing initiatives, but support has now coalesced behind the Maine Marijuana Legalization initiative filed in February by Legalize Maine. That proposal will need to garner more than 61,000 signatures and be filed with the Secretary of State by Feb. 1. The signature drive has been underway for months, and as of late October was approximately 20,000 signatures short. A poll from the spring of 2015 showed that 65 percent of Mainers support adult use legalization.
But then the consensus begins to break down.
Vermont shows up on most lists and is particularly interesting because it appears that the state legislature is prepared to act to legalize adult use. Vermont’s Attorney General admits as much, and Gov. Peter Schumlin has reportedly begun to organize meetings on the logistics of regulating cannabis for recreational purposes.
Beyond that the most frequently named states include Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan, Rhode Island, Delaware, perhaps Massachusetts and even Ohio, again.
Rhode Island, like Vermont, has no ballot initiative process, so legalization would have to occur through action of the legislature. Rhode Island legislators failed to act on adult use legislation in 2015. A similar bill is expected to be introduced when the legislature returns to session in January. Adult use legalization reportedly has the support of 57 percent of Rhode Island voters.
Further down the list
Delaware and Connecticut are somewhat less frequently mentioned. Neither has a statewide ballot initiative process. That may be bad news in the face of a reluctant legislature. The ballot initiative process has, so far, yielded the greatest success for adult use advocates. The good news is that legislative legalization efforts are not tied to a biennial election calendar. Both states have operational medical programs and a wide base of support for legalization.
Petition drives are currently underway in Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and Ohio. Most initiatives must submit an adequate number of qualifying signatures between 100 and 180 days before the election. Long before then, internecine struggles between competing proposals will need to have been resolved in order to avoid splitting the vote. By early July, the field may have narrowed considerably, and the focus will shift to voter mobilization.
There is something seductive about the blankness of a fresh calendar that tempts even the most cautious into making predictions for the future. Next year is bound to be big, though, for both legalization and the broader national issues within which marijuana plays a role.