Let's face it, 2016 is going to be a monumental year when it comes to the election process. In 2016 we'll be electing a new president, potentially changing the make-up of Congress, and more than a half-dozen states may be deciding on the medicinal or recreational approval of marijuana.
Voters are about to weigh in on marijuana
Marijuana has been a hot-button issue for consumers this decade, with three national polls (Gallup, General Social Survey, and Pew Research) all showing that a slim majority of respondents have a favorable opinion of the currently federally-illicit drug. Focusing solely on medicinal marijuana, the perception of favorability shoots even higher.
But, just because the collective opinion of respondents in national polls would appear to suggest that marijuana's expansion is slated to continue doesn't mean that marijuana will necessarily succeed in every state. In fact, in Colorado, one of four states that's legalized the sale of recreational marijuana, roughly three-quarters of all jurisdictions still outlaw marijuana. Also, in 2014 Florida voters failed to pass a medicinal marijuana amendment.
However, further expansion of marijuana into new states is one of a handful of steps likely needed to get the attention of an apathetic Congress. Next week, two important marijuana votes could go a long way to supporting the move toward nationwide legalization.
With Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 marking this year's national Election Day, here are the two marijuana votes you'll want to closely monitor.
Ohio residents vote to legalize recreational and medical marijuana
Arguably the most watched election for marijuana supporters will be Ohio's ballot measure, known as Issue 3, which looks to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana at the same time. No prior state has tried legalizing both at the same time.
Approaching legalization this way could leave Ohio open to one significant challenge: it has no medical marijuana infrastructure currently in place. The four states that have legalized recreational sales all had a pre-existing medical marijuana industry in place, and thus had some time to get acquainted with the ins and outs of the industry. Ohio would be essentially going from a dead stop to pedal to the metal overnight with its approach, and there's no telling what could happen.
With Issue 3, adults aged 21 and up would be allowed to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana, growers would be required to obtain a license, and consumers could legally keep four plants and up to eight ounces of marijuana in their homes.
Yet, Issue 3 is also a controversial in that it divvies out just 10 marijuana farms to handle all growing throughout Ohio, and protects these farms for a number of years from additional competition. Some critics of issue three have contended that it would create an oligopoly among marijuana growers in the state, leading to unfair pricing practices.
Currently, Ohio residents appear divided on the proposed law. A University of Akron poll from the prior week found that 53% of voters are in favor of legalizing marijuana, but 43% believe it will have potentially discouraging side effects, such as encouraging children to use drugs, or pushing citizens to use other drugs aside from marijuana. The poll also demonstrated a keen dislike of the possible oligopoly created by the 10 predetermined farm sites for growing marijuana.
It should be noted that Issue 2 has also been proposed in Ohio, which essentially outlaws monopolies and oligopolies. If both Issue 3 and Issue 2 were to pass, whichever proposal receives the highest percentage of passing votes would be implemented into law.
In sum, you're going to want to pay close attention to whether or not Ohio becomes the fifth recreation-legal state in a matter of days.
Colorado residents to decide what happens with marijuana tax revenue
The other important vote you're going to want to monitor is Colorado residents' decision on Proposition BB.
Proposition BB will help decide what happens with the money generated from taxing retail marijuana in Colorado. Of the $66 million raised from taxing marijuana in 2014, $40 million has been proposed to go to Colorado's education system, with another $12 million headed to law enforcement, youth programs, and marijuana education. The remaining amount would stay within the state's General Fund.
If Proposition BB fails to pass, the $66 million in tax revenue would be returned to marijuana growers and Colorado taxpayers. The proposal would send $24 million back to growers, $17 million would go toward a temporary marijuana sales tax reduction to just 0.1% effective Jan. 1, 2016, and the remaining $25 million would be refunded to Colorado residents who file a 2015 state income tax. This last part works out to about $8 per resident.
Now here's the interesting part: Proposition BB already overwhelmingly passed in 2013. The reason it's being proposed to voters once more falls squarely with the Tax Payers Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Under TABOR, the state of Colorado was required to estimate what its full-year marijuana sales and full-year state revenue would be in its 2014-2015 fiscal year. Unfortunately, the states' revenue of $12.35 billion exceeded its original estimate or $12.08 billion, automatically triggering a refund under TABOR. Thus, residents once again have to go to the polls to decide what should happen with the states' marijuana tax money.
If past results are any indication of this upcoming vote, Proposition BB has a good chance of passing. This proposition is worth keeping an eye on because its passage could be a template that other states may follow.
Keep this in mind
Although Nov. 3, 2015 stands to be another important day for the marijuana industry, it's important that you keep in mind as an investor that nothing major is expected to change in regards to the federal government's stance on marijuana any time soon. Marijuana's classification as a schedule 1 drug will continue to make it extremely difficult for legal marijuana businesses to gain access to basic banking services, and will ensure that marijuana-based businesses aren't able to take basic deductions on their taxes. This works as a major drag on the profitability of marijuana businesses.
As such, I'd suggest that you monitor the marijuana industry from afar rather than attempting to invest in an industry that isn't even guaranteed to survive over the long term.