Don't look now, but the November elections are just over five weeks away. In addition to choosing the 45th president of the United States, voters in nine states will decide the fate of marijuana, which has become a front-and-center issue this year.
The expansion of the marijuana industry is impressive in two respects. First, its growth rate is practically unmatched. According to cannabis research firm ArcView, legal marijuana sales could grow at a 30% annual clip between now and 2020, all on account of organic sales growth and legalization by more individual states.
Secondly, public opinion concerning cannabis has shifted dramatically. Two decades ago, when California became the first state to allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for a small list of ailments, a national Gallup poll pegged support for the drug at a mere 25%. In Gallup's latest poll, support for the nationwide legalization of marijuana tied for an all-time high at 58%. A CBS News poll found even stronger support for medical marijuana, with 84% of respondents in favor of its legalization.
By the end of the 2016 elections we could see five new states joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska by legalizing recreational marijuana, and four more states could join the 25 that have legalized medical cannabis.
These states are the most likely to be seeing green in November
However, as we saw last week, not all of those nine states are locks for approval. In fact, a couple could wind up rejecting the legalization of marijuana. At the other end of the spectrum are a handful of states that look certain to vote "yes" on marijuana.
Though nothing is set in stone, recent polling suggests the following states are most likely to legalize marijuana on Nov. 8.
The state of California is the promised land of the marijuana industry, as it represents the eighth-largest economy in the world as of 2014. Though medical cannabis has been legal for two decades, this November voters will be deciding whether recreational marijuana gets the O.K.
Known as Prop 64, the recreational marijuana initiative would establish a 15% sales tax at the retail level and a $9.25 per-ounce cultivation tax paid for by wholesalers. Additionally, it would allow households to grow up to six plants, allow the gifting of up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis (as long as it's to a fellow adult aged 21 or older), and establish marijuana cafes that would allow for the consumption of cannabis outside of a person's private residence.
What's most notable about Prop 64 is that it could lead to $1 billion in annual tax revenue generation. For context, Colorado has led the charge in legal marijuana sales, and it only mustered $135 million in tax revenue and fee collection in 2015. Richard Miadich, one of the authors of Prop 64, pointed out in August that about $200 million annually would go to law enforcement. Miadich also implied that cost savings of $10 million a year would be realized from the legalization of cannabis thanks to a decline in police enforcement and legal action.
Recent polls suggest that Californians strongly favor the idea of legalizing recreational cannabis. In a recent Field Poll/Institute for Government Studies survey, 60% of respondents voiced support for Prop 64, while just 31% opposed the law. Some 9% of respondents remained undecided. Another poll released last week from the Public Policy Institute generated almost identical results, with 60% in favor of Prop 64, 36% opposed, and 4% undecided.
Long story short, marijuana supporters are probably looking at a major victory in California come November.
For our next state we'll fly from the arid Southwest to the temperate Northeast. The Marijuana Legalization Act in Maine, more commonly known as Question 1, seeks to allow adults aged 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Taxation of recreational cannabis would be handled at the retail level and would total 10%.
Of the nine states vying to legalize marijuana in November, Maine was among the first three to ensure that an initiative was on its ballot. If the Act is approved, the first $30 million in tax revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward school construction, with any amount above and beyond $30 million going to the state's General Fund.
Maine's legalized medical marijuana in 1999, so the foundation has been laid for a possible expansion into recreational marijuana. Recent polls suggest that there's a good chance Maine will join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in the legal-recreation category. In a poll released in May by the Marijuana Policy Project, 55% of respondents favored the legalization of recreational marijuana, while just 41% who opposed the idea. In another May survey, the Maine People's Resource Center found that 53.8% of respondents favored legalization.
While Mainers might not be as overwhelmingly in favor of legalization as Californians, there's enough of a gap between supporters and the opposition to suggest that Question 1 will likely pass on Nov. 8.
To stick with our theme of corner states, Florida also looks primed to pass Amendment 2 this November.
While California and Maine will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana, Florida voters will be deciding whether or not to legalize medical marijuana. While a Florida law already allows a select few Floridians to use low-THC cannabis oils, Amendment 2 would substantially expand the qualifying medical conditions and the allowable uses of cannabis.
Florida's vote is worth watching for a number of reasons. To start with, Amendment 2 requires Florida to change its constitution, so a simple 50% majority vote won't cut it. In order for Amendment 2 to succeed, it'll need to garner 60% support. In 2014, Florida's medical marijuana initiative failed by just over 2%.
What also makes this vote interesting is that Florida has a relatively older population, as retirees love Florida's warm climate. Older Americans typically have a more negative view of cannabis, meaning a victory in Florida this November would represent a key win for the industry.
While polling data has been all over the place, the results nonetheless suggest that Florida is on track to approve Amendment 2. According to FloridaPolitics.com, of the eight polls conducted since January 2015, all eight have produced support numbers that have topped 60%. That's pretty decisive, and it suggests that Florida is well on its way to becoming the 26th state to legalize medical cannabis.