This year could be a turning point in a fight for marijuana legalization as the number of legal states could double - from 4 to 8 - after Election Day 2016. Here are the states that are set to vote on recreational marijuana in November. There are still a few that could make the ballot (see below), so we'll update the list going forward.
The Silver State is the early bird when it comes to this year's marijuana ballot questions. Campaigners submitted their petition signatures and had them approved before any other state that will vote this year. And they got a huge boost in support during the lead up to the primaries when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he would likely vote for the initiative if he were a Nevadan.
“I suspect I would vote yes," Sanders said at a Democratic presidential debate held in Las Vegas last October. "And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.”
Meanwhile, local supporters have high hopes that legalization will boost the state's biggest industry. "If we do this right, this will be a major boom to tourism, which is our economy," State Senator Richard "Tick" Segerblom told KSNV last fall.
But whether or not Question 2 will pass is uncertain. Last July, local ABC-affiliate KTNV released a poll showing that 50 percent of Nevadans supported legalizing recreational marijuana while only 41 percent were opposed. So the issue really rests with the 9 percent of undecided voters that are making Nevada a cannabis swing state.
Without a doubt, California is the biggest cannabis battleground between pro-legalization and anti-marijuana activists in America. Activists on both sides of the issue know that what happens in the Golden State will have massive repercussions for the legalization movement in general. "If there's one thing we agree on with legalization advocates, it's that California is important," Kevin Sabet - head of the anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) - told The Los Angeles Times earlier this month.
That's because some think legalization in California - which has the 6th biggest economy in the world - could help similar movements in other states gain momentum. "Once California legalizes marijuana, I think the rest of the country is going to follow," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told a crowd of young voters at UC Berkeley last spring.
But failure in California and other states voting on the issue could hobble efforts to repeal cannabis prohibition.
“If we don’t win California and at least half of the other states in play right now, the public narrative around our industry will dramatically change for the worse and for quite some time, setting us back a decade or more,” Aaron Smith - Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) - said at a convention in Oakland last June.
Luckily, the legalization question - a.k.a. Proposition 64 - is garnering strong support among Californians. According to a poll released by Probolsky Research last February, 59.9 percent of voters are in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and only 36.7 percent are opposed. That means California seems to be the safest bet on this list.
After a very bumpy path to the polls, voters in the Pine Tree State will be able to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana this November.
Last March, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap disqualified almost half of the estimated 99,000 petition signatures submitted by the pro-legalization campaign. But activists quickly challenged his decision in court and won their appeal last April, clearing the way for the ballot question to advance.
"We're excited and look forward to educating Mainers," legalization campaign manager David Boyer told Reuters after winning the appeal. "This is the easy part now."
And his message seems to be getting through. According to a poll released last March by Maine People's Resource Center, 53.8 percent of voters are in favor of recreational marijuana while only 42.4 percent are opposed. So the question could get approved even without support from the 3.8 percent of respondents who were undecided.
The campaign will get additional support this fall from travel writer and legalization advocate Rick Steves, who decided to promote Question 1 after his activist recommends told him that Maine could use his help.
"I was asking my friends who are my mentors and my insiders that I rely on for savvy advice on drug policy reform, 'Where could my money and time be best spent?' And they all said in Massachusetts and Maine," Steves told Civilized. "So I'm looking forward to going there this October and giving a lot of talks and helping out."
Compared to Maine, the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in the Bay State hit fewer bumps on the road to the ballot. But getting Question 4 passed will be a challenge.
The 'yes' campaign has been endorsed by Libertarian Vice-Presidential Candidate Bill Weld, the ACLU of Massachusetts and many legislators, law enforcers and activist groups. But it has also generated opposition in high places, including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
But campaign manager James Borghesani has faith that voters won't be swayed by the opposition. "We're confident that Massachusetts voters will see through the regressive, 1930s-era arguments of these groups as they consider a new approach to a substance that is less toxic, less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol," he told The Lowell Sun. "By opposing our initiative these groups are implicitly endorsing a market that benefits gangs and cartels and guarantees unchecked access to young people."
However, Borghesani's confidence might be misplaced as it's anyone's guess how Massachusettsians will vote on Question 4. Polls conducted over the last year suggest that support for legalization could be as low as 41 percent and as high as 57 percent. Meanwhile, opposition ranges from 35-51 percent. So we might not get a clear sense of public opinion on the issue until we see the results on Election Day.
The latest addition to the list of states set to vote on legalization is Arizona. Last Week, the secretary of state's office gave the green light for Proposition 205 to appear on the ballot in the Grand Canyon State. Supporters are promoting the measure by telling voters that legalization will curb organized crime in the state.
"I think you actually take the criminal element out of it, there's no longer underground, it's above ground just like alcohol during a prohibition era," Mike Capasso - a former DEA agent - told FOX 10 Phoenix. "Once it ended, there was no more Al Capone, there was no more of that. Coors and Budweiser were making the money and being taxed."
So far, voters don't seem convinced. According to a poll released last April, only 43 percent of Arizonans support legalization while 49 percent are opposed and 8 percent are undecided. However, that poll was released by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy (ARDP), which opposes legalization. An earlier poll conducted last December by the Phoenix Business Journal suggested the 'yes' and 'no' votes were much closer, with 49 percent in favor and 51 opposed. So legalization advocates have their work cut out for it ahead of the November vote.
Luckily they're not shy about getting their message out there. They've been making headlines over the last year with holiday-themed and sports-related billboard ads to promote their cause. So the Arizona campaign will undoubtedly be one of the most entertaining to watch.
There's still a chance for a sixth legalization question to make the November ballot if the Wolverine State gets its petition approved. Check back with us for updates!