We could see the beginning of a similar rebellion against marijuana prohibition this year as voters in three states -- Washington, Colorado and Oregon -- decide whether to legalize the drug's production and sale for recreational use. If any of these ballot initiatives pass, it might be the most consequential election result this fall, forcing both major parties to confront an unjust, irrational policy that Americans increasingly oppose.
With six weeks to go before Election Day, Oregon's Measure 80, which would establish a commission charged with licensing growers and selling marijuana through state-run stores, seems to be in trouble. In a SurveyUSA poll this month, only 37 percent of respondents said they planned to vote yes, while 41 percent were opposed and 22 percent were undecided.
But the other two initiatives are polling strongly. According to a SurveyUSA poll conducted two weeks ago, 57 percent of Washington voters favor Initiative 502, which would authorize private pot stores regulated by the state liquor commission; only 34 percent were opposed. A SurveyUSA poll completed on Sept. 12 found that 51 percent of Colorado voters support Amendment 64, which would allow home cultivation of up to six plants and create a licensing system for growers and retailers; 40 percent were opposed.
Neither of these measures is a sure thing by any means. California's Proposition 19, a marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately supported by 47 percent of voters in November 2010, polled above 50 percent in several surveys. But while the SurveyUSA approval number for Proposition 19 peaked at 56 percent in April 2010, dropping to 47 percent by September, support for the Washington and Colorado initiatives appears to be growing.
In the Colorado survey, supporters outnumbered opponents in every age group except respondents 65 or older, and Amendment 64 was ahead by 30 percentage points among respondents younger than 35. These generational differences are clear in national survey data, as well. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 62 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds supported marijuana legalization, compared to 31 percent of respondents in the 65-and-up group.