Recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot in five states
November 6, 2016
As the United States hurdles toward an election that many people throughout the nation are facing with equal parts dread and relief, another revolution may be taking place in slightly quieter terms.
Nine states have marijuana legalization questions on the ballot. Five of them are for recreational marijuana. If these ballot measures pass, the number of states with legal retail marijuana sales will double. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have all voted to legalize pot sales. Residents of Washington, D.C., also voted to legalize recreational marijuana sales in 2014. California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts are now all looking to follow suit.
While cannabis tourism is still a budding industry, states like California and Nevada may be able to draw more tourists in, if pot becomes legal.
Andy Williams, the CEO of Medicine Man, said that he thinks more options in the market will be good for the cannabis industry, and that Colorado's recent history as a tourist destination will help keep things afloat.
"Colorado is very attractive for tourism, for any number of reasons, and our cannabis tourism will remain high," Williams said. "Overall I think it's a good thing for the industry, and will Colorado's tourism take a little hit for it? Probably, but that's OK, Colorado has a lot to offer and cannabis is just one of those things."
Medicine Man is a Colorado-based marijuana company that sells both recreational and medicinal marijuana in its two stores in Denver and Aurora. The company also does consulting, helping new pot stores throughout the nation get a leg-up on everything from licensing and marijuana cultivation to business training and planning.
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Kyle Delmuro with Nison+Co, a public relations and consulting team that works with companies in the cannabis industry, said that many of his clients have already started looking at investing in startups in states that are voting on legalization. He added that some of the states, such as Massachusetts, are already looking at business strategies.
Initiative 300 in Denver, which would allow for public consumption in licensed locations, is another way that Colorado continues to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to recreational marijuana sales. Williams called this the "natural maturing process of the industry." He added that he hopes continued exposure to marijuana will lessen some of the stigma surrounding it. He said that education around marijuana can lead to better options for some people, like his mother, who choose to use medicinal marijuana for pain control after surgery, instead of opioids.
"As people get more and more used to it, and the stigma falls, more people are going to make those choices," he said.
Cities in Colorado are trying to find a balance in what is currently an oversaturated market. According to Williams, wholesale marijuana prices in Colorado have gone down since last year. Part of this is because of the increasing number of dispensaries in the state. He said that stores that can't compete are at a risk of going out of business. Summit County towns such as Breckenridge and Frisco, on the other hand, have been seeing an increase in tax revenue coming from marijuana sales.
"Smaller communities and rural communities, they haven't seen the big influx of stores and the competition for customers that maybe some of the bigger cities have," he said.
The market is not the only thing in flux when it comes to marijuana on the ballot. The Brookings Institute, a research group based in Washington, D.C., has been looking at polls to see how these ballot items affect voter turnout. Polling numbers for the current election are still coming in, making it hard to measure turnout so far. However, John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the institute, said that during the 2012 presidential election, recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington brought out young voters who may not necessarily have voted without those initiatives.
"What we saw in 2012 were peaks among young people in the 18-29 demographic and especially in the 18-24 demographic, as well as self-described liberals," he said. "Those are two groups who have the highest levels of support for legalization."
Initiative 300 in Denver may bring out some of these same voting groups that want to legalize public use in the city. While younger voters may be coming out just to vote for pot reform, older demographics are the opposite. Senior groups, which may not support marijuana legalization, usually have the highest turnout during elections regardless of whether pot ordinances are on the ballot. Hudak added that medicinal ballot initiatives do not have the same impact on voter turnout as recreational ones.
"There are certainly medical advocates who are going to be motivated, but in a presidential election year, turnout is already relatively high for the United States, and medical marijuana isn't that sort of an issue that drives unique voters to the polls and that's in large part because support for it generally is so high," Hudak said.
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