(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES MAGAZINE)
Another Big Election Year For Marijuana As Candidates Recognize Voters Want Legal Weed
The lucrative legal cannabis industry is again front and center this voting year as Americans head to the polls for midterm elections November 6. Ballots across the U.S. will include numerous cannabis-related measures — many at the county and municipal level — regarding laws for commercial cultivation in certain zones and how to spend abundant new cannabis taxes. In Colorado alone, legal cannabis revenues for 2018 crested a record $1 billion by August. The state is forecasting to gross over $1.5 billion by end of year, meaning more than $250 million into government coffers.
Several U.S. states will also vote on both adult-use and medical cannabis legalization. North Dakota and Michigan will decide on ballot initiatives for recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over, and Utah and Missouri will cast ballots on medical marijuana legalization. There are also 35 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs and 36 races for governor. And you can bet that those candidates are well aware that nothing brings out the vote — particularly the youth vote — like cannabis. Having already reached a tipping point of popularity in the U.S. — with 62 percent of Americans agreeing that marijuana should be legalized — candidates nationwide are currently more willing than ever to include cannabis endorsements in their platforms. Political contenders in many states are following the green, as a projection by BDS Analytics puts worldwide consumer spending on legal pot at roughly $57 billion by 2027.
In the highly contentious race for Florida’s governorship, candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis are battling it out with clashing and irreconcilable political views — including opinions on healthcare, climate change and gun control — yet regarding the once controversial topic of marijuana legalization they are both supportive. “Legalize it. Tax it,” Tweeted Gillumearlier this year. “Use the revenue to fix Florida’s public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1.” DeSantis was a bit more cautious but still pro-weed telling WPLG 10News, “I am going to implement the will of the voters. They passed medical marijuana overwhelmingly, and my view is we have a process in Florida when that happens, then we shouldn’t play games with it. We should just simply implement it.” Whoever becomes Florida’s next governor will certainly have a lot of say over the state’s evolving — and highly profitable — medical marijuana system, and over any potential recreational legalization efforts going forward.
There’s no better evidence of marijuana’s widespread popularity than Canada’s decision to make cannabis legal for adult use across the country this year. As cannabis retailers there contend with high demand and inventory shortfalls since legal weed sales fired up on October 17, it’s clear that consumers want this substance available. Buyers in the U.S. are signaling the same, as 31 states have legalized it for medical purposes and nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational adult use. The message to candidates in many pro-marijuana regions is clear: go against the rising tide of cannabis legalization at your own peril.
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In California, where statewide recreational cannabis sales kicked off in January, Marijuana Business Daily reports that many jurisdictions in the state are still grappling with ironing out local marijuana laws. Some 82 cannabis-related ballot measures are slated to go before voters in cities and counties around the Golden State. Those measures will include regulations for cannabis entrepreneurs to operate within their borders, new licensing opportunities and setting tax rates. For instance, in Bakersfield, Measure J seeks to “retain the ban on commercial adult-use cannabis activity” but “allow and regulate commercial medicinal cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing, retailing, distribution and micro-business in the unincorporated area.”
In conservative-leaning Montana — a state that’s had a contentious history the past few years with legal medical marijuana — U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester, who is currently ahead in the polls, said during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs meeting this year, “Veterans must have a say in how they manage their pain and the VA needs to listen to those veterans who are finding relief in medicinal cannabis.”
While midterm elections consistently have a much lower voter turnout compared with general elections, ballot measures can have a significant effect on who shows up to vote and subsequent outcomes. Cannabis looks to be one of the key motivators this year.