As reported by the United States Election Project, nearly 50 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm elections. Of the 110 million Americans who visited a polling place on Nov. 8, roughly 80,000 were registered — thanks to the efforts of a voter-initiative nonprofit known as HeadCount.
Since the organization launched in 2004, it’s registered nearly 500,000 individuals, but for the U.S.’s most recent election, organizers opted to branch out with a new program called the Cannabis Voter Project. When that launched last summer, the goal was simple: Entice young people to become fully engaged in the democratic process through cannabis policy.
According to the organization’s director, Sam D’Arcangelo, cannabis was an excellent entry point for convincing new voters that it was an ideal time to get involved.
“The idea behind the Cannabis Voter Project was that cannabis was this issue that’s of interest to lots of people, but particularly young people who don’t necessarily vote or consider voting to be that important,” D’Arcangelo says.
While issues at the federal level continue to be of immense interest, the Cannabis Voter Project went to great lengths to customize their outreach to speak to state-specific matters. For a booth at the annual Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich., volunteers offered information on an upcoming ballot initiative to legalize recreational cannabis throughout the state.
“Even though that wasn’t specifically a Cannabis Voter Project operation,” D’Arcangelo notes, “our people on the ground told us that so much of the interest there among young people who registered to vote was around the initiative that was on the ballot in Michigan. That was the thing that was convincing a lot of young people that now was the time to go ahead and register.”
Although the sample size may be limited, it seems reasonable to draw a correlation between the record-breaking voter turnout in 2018 and the prevalence of cannabis issues on ballots across the country. There can be no question that the conduct of the federal government brought many people to the ballot box, but as politicians begin to look ahead to the races in 2020, there is no ignoring the fact that voters age 18 to 29 turned out in huge numbers — and overwhelmingly voted for Democratic candidates.
The logical conclusion is simple: Candidates in 2020 eager to curry favor with young voters would be wise to run on a pro-cannabis platform.
As D’Arcangelo points out, this is precisely what New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy did in 2017.
“He was more or less the first governor to win on a platform of marijuana legalization,” he notes.
This past election, gubernatorial races in Illinois and Minnesota also saw campaigns focused on cannabis policy reform. On a daily basis, prospective 2020 presidential candidates like California Sen. Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren voice their support for changes to U.S. cannabis laws on Twitter and in public appearances. No one can argue that cannabis reform is more important than offering solutions to more dire matters like climate change and gun control, but the public opinion and analytics suggest that pot may be a golden ticket issue.
At the same time, the results of the 2018 midterm election provided Congress with its first majority that favors leaving cannabis issues for states to decide. As part of their work, the Cannabis Voter Project offers a website where interested visitors can learn all the details about their state’s specific stances and what various candidates have said and done with relation to the topic.
While D’Arcangelo and his team prepare for the campaign that precedes the 2020 election, they’re keeping a watchful eye on the newly seated House of Representatives. With perennial bill-blocker — and noted anti-cannabis crusader — Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) out of a job, there’s a real chance that legislation related to banking, military veterans, and states’ rights will actually receive votes this year.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see if some floor votes actually come,” D’Arcangelo agrees. “It’s a different Congress, and you’ve got a lot of people who have said things like, ‘I wouldn’t personally be in favor of legalizing marijuana but I believe that this is a state-level issue.’ Things like that, but they’ve never actually been forced to put it to a vote. It will be interesting to see what they do when it actually counts.”
Regardless of whether Congress makes any progress on the many demands for cannabis policy reform, this much is certain: Expect to hear a lot about pot in the election to come.