By John Schroyer
On Tuesday, voters in several states will decide the fate of marijuana legalization measures that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues for the cannabis industry.
The three key battlegrounds to watch: Alaska and Oregon – which could become the next recreational marijuana markets – and Florida, which could become the first southern state to legalize medical cannabis.
Voters in Washington DC will also decide whether to legalize adult possession and use as well as home grows. Additionally, there several other local cannabis-related initiatives on ballots in a handful of other states, including Colorado, Maine and Michigan. (Note: Marijuana Business Daily will provide live election updates here starting Tuesday afternoon.)
In Florida, Oregon and Alaska, all three campaigns started out on what looked like fairly solid footing, according to early poll numbers. But as the campaign season wore on and opponents of the three ballot measures ramped up anti-legalization advertising, support began to wane. It’s conceivable that all three could fail – which would be a huge setback for the marijuana movement.
The DC initiative is the only one of the four that looks like it could pass with ease, but the business impact would be minimal – relegated primarily to companies that sell home cultivation equipment – because the sale of cannabis would not be allowed.
Here’s a primer and the latest polling data on the most prominent ballot issues:
Alaska: Ballot Measure 2
Medical marijuana is already legal in Alaska, but dispensaries are still banned. Ballot Measure 2 would alter state statutes to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, similar to Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington State.
The measure would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants. It would also pave the way for retail stores, which could generate between $45 million to $55 million in annual sales initially, according to Marijuana Business Media’s estimates.
Regulations for the industry would begin with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but the measure allows the state Legislature to establish a board to oversee cannabis cultivation and sales.
There have been few polls out of Alaska, compared to Oregon and Florida, and recent surveys tell a conflicting tale. Early numbers showed support nearing 50% range, and activists believed they could build on that base to broaden support.
But in early October, a pair of polls were released with opposite findings: one showed Ballot Measure 2 with only 43% support, and the other pegged support at 57%. Both polls found 4% undecided, and both had 4-point margins of error.
Opponents to the measure have raised a meager $108,000, while the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance have pumped almost $850,000 into the campaign.
The Alaskan measure got some unorthodox attention in September, when an Anchorage television reporter quit on-air during a live broadcast after revealing she’s the owner of a cannabis club.
Florida: Amendment 2
Florida has been one of the toughest campaigns to keep a handle on, due to crazily fluctuating poll numbers in recent months. Amendment 2 would amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana. Florida’s health department would establish regulations for MMJ dispensaries, cultivation sites and infused products manufacturers as well as issue ID cards to both patients and caregivers.
Annual sales would likely total in the hundreds of millions of dollars given Florida’s large population and the high number of seniors in the state.
Despite early polling numbers that showed support for medical marijuana at an amazing 88%, the Amendment 2 campaign has been struggling to keep support above 60%. That’s the threshold for a change to the Florida state constitution, and multiple polls in recent months have found support well below that mark.
Two of the most recent found support at 59% and 50%, respectively, so again, it’s hard to make any kind of judgment call on whether Amendment 2 will pass.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has pumped millions of dollars in cash into opposing the measure, helping the anti-cannabis campaign Drug Free Florida air TV ads that Amendment 2 backers say are misleading voters. People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the Amendment 2 campaign, went so far as to send a cease-and-desist letter to Florida TV stations over one ad.
John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney, has largely bankrolled the Amendment 2 campaign on his own, but backers have also seen a huge influx of campaign donations from cannabis entrepreneurs all over the country who are interested in tapping the Florida market.
Oregon: Measure 91
This is another race that appears too close to call before Election Day.
Measure 91 would alter state statutes to legalize recreational marijuana sales in Oregon for those 21 and older, similar to the Colorado and Washington legalization initiatives.
The measure would pave the way for retail stores and other businesses, and it would permit individuals to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission would establish regulations for the industry.
Annual sales could come in around $225 million to $275 million, according to Marijuana Business Media’s initial ballpark estimates.
The latest polling numbers in Oregon effectively rate Measure 91 as a toss-up, with 44% supporting the initiative, 46% opposing it and 9% uncertain.
The contest has been one-sided on the money end: supporters, including New Approach Oregon and two other groups, have raised more than $7.5 million for their campaign, while opponents have only come up with a little over $168,000, most from the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association.
But even the law enforcement community in Oregon is divided on the issue. Recently, a coalition of 30 former cops, sheriffs, prosecutors and judges all put their names on a letter in support of Measure 91, arguing that marijuana prohibition has failed.
If 91 passes on Tuesday, Oregon could become the “new gold standard” in the recreational market, according to the head of the Drug Policy Alliance. The measure was written as one of the most cannabusiness-friendly laws in the nation, when stacked against Colorado and Washington.
And Portland, the largest city in Oregon, could see an influx in customers from the north, since tax rates on recreational marijuana remain sky-high in Washington.
Washington DC: Initiative 71
Of all four legalization measures, Initiative 71 has the best chance of passing, according to the few polls that have been conducted in the capital. The measure would legalize adult possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and allow those 21 and over to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. Though marijuana paraphernalia sales would also be legalized, and individuals would be allowed to share what they grow, sale of marijuana would remain prohibited.
However, the DC Council is also considering a separate measure that would legalize recreational marijuana sales, so Initiative 71 could eventually help create a viable market with roughly $130 million in sales by one estimate.
The most recent voter survey on Initiative 71, released in September, found that a whopping 65% of residents support the measure, while only 33% oppose it.
But while the initiative may cruise to victory at the ballot box, marijuana’s future in DC remains uncertain, because Congress could essentially veto the law. And according to The Washington Post, “The DC Council is talking about waiting months, or even a year, before taking the next step and passing a scheme to allow sales, taxes and regulation.”
So questions abound regarding the fate of cannabis in America’s capital.
John Schroyer can be reached at Johns@mjbizmedia.com