Smoke the Vote! A Guide to Midterm Activism

By David Jenison on October 23, 2018

Fuck hyperbole. The most pivotal midterm election in a generation stands before us, and America must choose between two radically different proposals for its future. Whatever path you prefer, a vote this important demands that a maximum number of voices be heard. 

Ahead of the 2008 election, Rock the Vote registered 2.6 million young people, making history as the largest non-partisan youth voter drive in U.S. history. A decade later, the cannabis community has the same opportunity to step up and make history. Just as the movement ripped a gaping hole in prohibition, cannabis advocates need to fire up the vote and impress their values at the ballot box. Sitting on the sidelines should be nothing more than a lazy stoner stereotype that the cannabis community blows to shreds. Election Day is November 6, and this year it's time to smoke the vote. 

Where to start? How about the basics. That means registering to vote or updating your info (address, name change, etc.) with the county registrar if you haven't already. In the weeks ahead of the midterms, research all the initiatives and candidates on the ballot, locate your polling place in advance and set aside a specific time to vote. If unable to vote in person, request a mail-in ballot, fill it out and send it in early. If you experience voter suppression or similar issues on Election Day, call the Voter Suppression Hotline at (866) OUR-VOTE (687-8683). 

But don't stop at the basics. Implore your friends and loved ones to vote, and if able, offer to drive people to the polls as needed. Do whatever you can to encourage a record turnout on Election Day. 

Believe in the Power of the Vote

Consider the origin of the word "politics"—poly means "many" and ticks are blood-sucking parasites (at least we think that's the etymology)—so voting is like pest control. You might not exterminate all the bloodthirsty bottom crawlers, but voting can make them scurry back into their little rot holes. 

Those who live in hyper-partisan districts often think their vote won't make a difference, but every vote makes an impact regardless of the victor. For starters, voting always makes a big difference on the down-ballot races for local offices and initiatives. Moreover, low-voter turnout can embolden politicians to act against the greater good with relative impunity, while high turnout lets them know you're engaged and paying attention. Whatever the outcome, margins matter. Strong voter support can weaken the influence of cash-weaponizing lobbyists, while closing the gap on regressive policies can create cracks in the seemingly unbreakable. That's what happened with cannabis. 

Heading into the 1990s, the Pew Research Center reported that support for cannabis legalization sat at a lowly 16 percent, the same percentage that believes in Bigfoot. Ask about legalization in 1990, and most people would reflexively just say no. The 16 percent stood firm and helped initiate change. Pew findings released this month found that legalization support sits at 62 percent (a record high in the Pew surveys), while other polls show support as high as 64 percent. 

Canada is another example. The country prohibited cannabis 24 years before the U.S., and Canadian authorities even arrested Justin Trudeau's mom for cannabis possession in 1988 just a few years after being the Canadian equivalent of the First Lady. (Justin's dad served as Prime Minister in the 1980s.) Despite the arrest, Margaret Trudeau later told the press, "If they would just legalize marijuana… I'd take it every day instead of a drink." After ousting an anti-cannabis Prime Minister in 2015, her son pushed for sweeping cannabis reform, which the country celebrates today, October 17, with the return of legal sales.

These seismic shifts in support and policy epitomize why making your vote count is crucial even if the immediate outcome might seem like a foregone conclusion. 

Evangelize for Cannabis 

Your hometown may or may not be in a swing district or voting on cannabis, but odds are you know someone who is, especially if they live in one of the seven states with cannabis on the ballot. Reach out to these people by phone, email, text, meme, whatever, and encourage them to vote. If cannabis is on their ballot, tell them why you support it. Start by telling your personal story and relationship with cannabis, and follow with one of the many macro arguments for cannabis reform. The following are five examples. 

1. Cannabis helps reduce opioid use and overdoses. Study after study confirms that increased access to cannabis is an effective tool for fighting the painkiller epidemic and reducing other pharmaceutical abuse. That means fewer deaths, thefts and destroyed lives that negatively impact entire communities.  

2. Cannabis provides medicine and promotes wellness. The debate's over, folks. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a long-time cannabis foe, recognized its medical value in 2015 and now funds studies on medical applications. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit in 2018 with their first approval of cannabis-derived medication.  

3. Legal cannabis reduces spending and increases revenue. Enforcing prohibition is extremely expensive and diverts manpower away from actual crime, while a legal marketplace increases tax revenue through direct sales, licensing fees and increased employment. 

4. Legalization significantly increases safety. Under prohibition, tens of millions of people regularly purchase untested cannabis from black market dealers who often push hard drugs as well. By contrast, a regulated industry provides safety testing, quality standards, dosage profiles and systems that reduce the risk of accidental, excessive or underage consumption. 

5. Legalizing cannabis takes a bite out of crime. The legal market makes the drug trade much less profitable for organized crime, and reductions in black market sales, smuggling and cultivation dramatically decrease violence and theft. Weakening the drug cartels in developing nations also decreases illegal immigration from people escaping drug war violence. In other words, it's better than a wall. 

When talking to individuals on the fence regarding cannabis, your best strategy is to keep it simple, stay positive and avoid topics that sound conspiratorial (even if probably true). If the person brings up the "many dangers" of cannabis, politely explain that researchers have refuted nearly all the classic danger claims through modern clinical methods and access to better data. Some researchers have even refuted their own prior claims of cannabis risk. 

Cannabis on the Ballot

For those who want to know where their representatives stand on cannabis, the National Cannabis Industry Association released its congressional scorecard earlier this month. Several Midwestern states will also have the opportunity to vote (or advise) on cannabis legislation through various ballot initiatives, which include the following: 

North Dakota - Measure 3 

A majority of YES votes would legalize recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and older and create an automatic process for expunging prior convictions for cannabis activity now legal under Measure 3. A recent poll showed support in the 30s, so the initiative can use any support you can offer. 

Missouri - Amendment 2, Amendment 3 and Proposition C

A trio of competing initiatives will appear on the midterm ballot in the Show-Me State. All three seek to legalize medical cannabis, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch endorsed Amendment 2 for its lower taxes, veteran benefits and protections against legislator sabotage. If only the amendments pass, the one with the most votes wins. If Prop. C and one/both amendments pass, the outcome will likely be decided in court. 

Michigan - Proposal 1

A majority of YES votes would legalize recreational sales, consumption, possession and grows for adults aged 21 and older. An October poll of likely voters found that 62 percent support legalization and 48 percent strongly support it. The proposal enjoys majority support across all demos except the most-ardent Republicans and voters aged 65 and older, demos we can safely assume involve a lot of overlap.

Utah - Proposition 2

A majority of YES votes would legalize medical cannabis for patients with qualifying medical conditions. In limited situations, certain patients could also grow up to six plants. Despite what had been major resistance from the Mormon mafia, a recent poll found support at 51 percent. 

Colorado - Amendment X

Yes, cannabis is already legal in Colorado, and no, the state isn't trying to legalize MDMA (yet). Amendment X, if approved, would change the legal definition of hemp to align with the federal standards, which are expected to change in positive ways with the upcoming farm bill. 


On a local level, places like Fremont, Dayton, Norwood, Oregon, Windham and Garrettsville will vote on decriminalizing cannabis. 


Several counties (and a few cities) placed cannabis-related advisory questions on their ballots to see if the voters want the state to legalize recreational and/or medical use. Participating counties include Clark, Milwaukee, Marquette, Dane, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Langlade, Brown, Rock and Racine, among others.  

Rise to the Challenge

"When more Americans are arrested for marijuana than for committing violent crimes, it's clear that the priorities of our justice system are completely out of order," tweeted Golden State congressman Ro Khanna earlier this month. "The 'war on drugs' has destroyed too many lives. It's imperative that we legalize marijuana."

If not now, when? If not here, where? If not you, who? The cannabis community already accomplished so much in effecting change, but the times call for a stepped-up effort to overrun the polls and make our presence felt like a stinky sweet trail of smoke. Take a stand at the ballot box and declare: I AM VOTER, HEAR ME ROAR! 


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