In states like Nebraska, illegal marijuana possession is at an all-time high (no pun intended). With the recent success of pot legalization in states like Colorado, progressives are more frustrated than ever with the apparent political gridlock in Washington, and are planning a major ballot-initiative to push across the country. They are banking on a very favorable electorate in 2016, with many groups now supporting issues like background checks for firearms, raising the minimum wage, and supporting marijuana legalization.
Organizations are now more confident after the overwhelming success on progressive ballot initiatives offered to the conservative bloc of voters in 2014. In 2016, the younger, more liberal voters are expected to turn out in droves, and produce more major triumphs. Referendums like gun control, economic fairness issues (including paid sick leave and equal pay), and marijuana legalization are expected to outnumber those of 2012. This is a clear sign that liberals are embracing a state-based model that allows them to circumvent legislature and Congress.
Conservatives, however, are not taking this lightly and are vowing to stop the momentum with a set of competing ballot propositions. However, pot legalization advocate’s strategy, in particular, is expected to do quite well, given the jarring demographic differences between midterm and presidential years.
“Especially with gridlock in Washington and fewer states likely to address the minimum wage legislatively, we’re likely to see more ballot initiatives on the minimum wage and other progressive economic issues,” said Paul Sonn, general counsel at the National Employment Law Project, an organization that has supported minimum wage pushes across the U.S. Sonn’s statement reflects on the midterm election, in which the GOP took back the Senate and made major gains in the House. It was the lowest voter turnout since 1942, with younger and minority voters making up a much smaller percentage of the voting pool.
Things are looking much better now for progressives, as minimum-wage-hike victories sweep across four hardened red states on November 4th – including, Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota. Sonn, however, feels confident that the increase in economic ballot propositions will boost turnout more than in the last election cycle. Although Sonn cannot confirm which new initiatives will be on the ballot, he did say that
states like Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, Missouri and Washington are places where gridlock makes ballot initiatives an appealing option.
According to experts, paid sick leave and equal pay propositions are also likely to be on the ballot in 2016. The senior vice president of the Center for American Progress, Arkadi Gerney, said the current trend in economic initiatives is largely in response to the failings of Congress and state legislatures. They simply have not addressed the decades-long wage stagnation.
More than a few marijuana legalization organizations are also gearing up for the 2016 election in Arizona, Maine, California, Nevada, and Massachusetts. Leaders of these organizations also say they have a good shot at being on the ballot in Montana and Missouri, as well. They are hopeful due in part to the legalization of marijuana possession in Oregon and Alaska in 2014, and the legalization of the plant’s use and transfer in Washington, D.C. A constitutional amendment requiring a 60% approval did fail in Florida, which would have allowed the use of medical marijuana, but it still pulled in a whopping 58 percent of the vote.
The communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, Mason Tvert, said the group’s forceful push is also because of the gridlock in state legislature, saying, “In the legislature, you can have a majority of elected officials in support, but it might be held up for five years due to one or two legislators, or a governor threatening a veto.”
It’s true that the country seems to be more pro-pot as the years progress, but these new initiatives will not be won without a fight. 2012 brought victories in states like Colorado and Washington (the first two states to legalize small marijuana possession), but there also were some significant losses. These include the embarrassing defeat for recreational-marijuana legalization in the bluest parts of Oregon.
Anti-marijuana groups are said to be on the counteroffensive. “We are ramping up our efforts,” said Kevin Sabet, who co-founded the anti-legalization Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) with former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.). ”It’s clear that we have a lot of work to do. I’m not looking at this with rose-colored glasses,” Sabet added.
Still, he argued that a spending advantage was a main reason for legalization successes. Anti-legalization advocates were badly outspent in both Oregon and Alaska this past cycle.
Sabet would not rule out some anti-legalization ballot initiatives, either, including those that might tie state marijuana policy to federal policy, where ending prohibition would be far more difficult. “All options are on the table,” he said.