The Decade of Legal Cannabis on Election Night


Another cannabis-heavy election cycle is about to reach its climax as we celebrate a decade of legal cannabis wins at the polls. 

Ten years ago, American voters pushed cannabis out of the darkness and into the light. Who would believe a decade has gone by since election night 2012 when 1.3 million Colorado voters and 1.7 million Washington voters chose to remove criminal penalties for adults who want to use and possess marijuana responsibly?

These days it seems like every two years the cannabis movement scores many wins for both the recreational marketplace and people who enjoy a better quality of life thanks to medical cannabis. All these big wins seemingly make it feel like things were always this way. But that certainly was not the case. 

Back in the day when there was just a handful of big-money donors bankrolling the movement, you would have been hard-pressed to convince one to pay for you to run a ballot initiative outside the presidential election cycle. Midterms never inspire the same youth turnout that would be needed to get the win. They didn’t want to waste money pushing a ballot initiative when there would be a lower turnout from younger people compared to when the presidency was up for grabs. 

In 2010, Richard Lee would balk at the trends of east coast money’s schedule for reform. He would bankroll Proposition 19 himself. In the process, he put a massive target on his back, the feds would famously raid Lee’s Oaksterdam University less than two years after he came within a few points of making California the first state to legalize marijuana, 

Wildly, almost three times as many Americans voted to legalize cannabis on election night 2010 in California alone, compared to the big wins in Colorado and Washington two years later.  

2012 also forced politicians to take a look at how they approached cannabis. Mason Tvert co-directed the Yes on 64 campaign. He weighed in on watching former opponents of legalization change their tune over the decade. 

“Thanks to decades of deeply ingrained anti-cannabis policies and propaganda, many elected officials had concerns about legalizing and regulating cannabis for adult use,” Tvert said. “To their credit, Sen. Hickenlooper and Mayor Hancock respected the voters and fulfilled their duties to implement Amendment 64, navigating unknown policy and political territory under the constant threat of federal interference. Their positions on cannabis have evolved significantly since 2012, and they are now working to advance further reform and to repair the damage caused by prohibition. We are proud to have them join us to commemorate this historic milestone.”

This year five states will vote to join the legal cannabis era. They are Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Last week while rallying troops for election night, the National Organization for The Reform of Marijuana Laws noted the ripple effect some of these votes would have in regions traditionally thought of as less-friendly to marijuana reform. 

While the cannabis news may seem national on election night, there are a lot of local votes that are critical to creating a thriving industry. One of the biggest problems is the large areas of California where people don’t have access to legal cannabis. Every election cycle we see a few more cities and towns that see the Prop 64 money they are missing out on or are just done being scared. This election will include efforts to expand access in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. A similar effort did fail in Redondo Beach during a special election last week.

But as lawmakers continue their attempts to stabilize the legal market, there is some speculation about these local bans, especially in municipalities that voted in favor of Prop 64. Sadly, though, Prop 64 put a lot of power in the hands of city councils. 

We’ll have a full election day recap after the smoke clears. 

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