We're in the final stretch of the midterm elections. In addition to the much-talked-about possible Republican takeover of the Senate, this is a big year for weed. In Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., voters will decide whether to follow Colorado and Washington state's lead and legalize recreational marijuana. In Florida, the electorate will decide whether to allow medicinal marijuana, which is legal in 23 other states.
Fusion's chief cannabis correspondent (actual title!) Ryan Nerz joined "Midterm Mayhem" earlier this week to discuss whether pot has a shot in any of those places.
Marijuana initiatives tend to get a lot of buzz and media coverage, but in non-presidential election years, they don't fare particularly well, Nerz noted.
"All the stoners get super psyched, at first, and the polls are really high," Nerz told "Midterm Mayhem" hosts Kal Penn and Nando Vila. "Then the fear-based attack ads hit and not enough liberals and college students show up at the polls to push them over the edge."
Notably, in 2010, California voters did not pass Proposition 19, which would have made it the first state to legalize and tax recreational marijuana. California was the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana back in 1996, so a recreational victory seemed like a slam dunk. Theories abounded as to why it failed: The "yes on 19" campaign more or less said it would end drug cartel crime and solve the state's budget shortfalls, among other dubious promises; every major newspaper and both political parties came out against it, and, of course, it was subject to the whims of midterm voters, who generally skew older and more conservative.
Some of these factors are at play for Florida, D.C., Alaska, and Oregon. But the game has changed: Colorado and Washington state proved you could legalize recreational marijuana without destroying civilization.
So has pot got a shot this week? Overall, "it's looking bleak for the devil's weed," according to Nerz. Short version: Florida, almost certainly not; Alaska, maybe but probably not; Oregon, maybe but possibly yes; and D.C., probably yes.
In Florida, notorious super-conservative businessman Sheldon Adelson has funded 85 percent of the anti-marijuana campaign. The initiative needs 60 percent of the vote to pass, but the most recent polls say only 48 percent of likely voters support it. "I say it's game over," Nerz conceded.
Alaska, Oregon, and Washington state followed California's medicinal marijuana lead just two years later, in 1998. Between that and Alaska's general libertarian vibe, you'd think recreational legalization would be a shoo-in. Unfortunately, Nerz said, the state's hard-line conservative voters will probably win out this time.
"The whole 'Tea Party, hands-off-my-guns and hands-off-my-weed' is not going to be enough to go over the edge," Nerz said. "I just don't think there's quite enough of that to counteract the family values stuff that always plays so well with the conservative base."
The polls say it's a toss-up: The phrase "anyone's guess" appeared in an Alaska Dispatch News headline Friday morning. Vox reported on five different polls that each got wildly different results: In one, 57.2 percent of respondees supported it; in another, 53 percent were opposed.
Oregon is home to the first sitting senator to openly endorse marijuana legalization. But the state's electorate declined to do that in 2012, while similar legalization initiatives were sailing to victory in neighboring Washington and Colorado. Like Alaska, Oregon polls are inconclusive — most results have fallen within the margin of error, according to Buzzfeed. Vox's poll analysis also showed a close race, with pro-marijuana sentiment narrowly edging out the antis in most cases. The Washington Post calls it "anyone's game," and Nerz said it's "super close; too tough to call."
Washington, D.C. is not technically a U.S. state. That puts it in an unusual spot for legalization: As Buzzfeed points out, "voter initiatives in the District cannot have a direct impact on the economy," and Congress would have the power to veto it over the will of the electorate. But in terms of the initiative's chance on Tuesday, things are looking good. Nerz said D.C. "is the best bet" for passing its marijuana initiative in this election.
"If pot passes in D.C., I cannot wait, all the stoner selfies just smoking a blunt in front of the White House," host Nando Vila said.
"They do that anyway," co-host Kal Penn pointed out. Penn is a former White House staffer under the Obama administration as well as one of the stars of the "Harold and Kumar" franchise, so he's kind of an expert on the subject of what stoners like to do at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So when will the federal law catch up and legalize — or at least decriminalize — marijuana?
"I do think (the federal law) will be eventually changed," Nerz said. "I think we've got at least a decade before that happens."