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Youth, liberals lead way on marijuana legalization in Western states

COMMENTARYA number of marijuana related ballot questions supported by liberals and young voters are quietly making waves in the American West. Early Friday
Zach Wahls
by Zach Wahls


A number of marijuana related ballot questions supported by liberals and young voters are quietly making waves in the American West. 

Early Friday evening, the Oregon Secretary of State announced that after gaining enough signatures Initiative Petition 9 will be on the November ballot as Measure 80, also known as The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA). The Act, which can be found here in its entirety, would regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol, allowing the purchase of marijuana in state-licensed stores by those over the age of 21. 

Similar legislation just north in Washington will also appear on the state’s November ballot after the legislature adjourned without taking action on the citizen-proposed rule. Supporters gathered nearly 250,000 signatures for the legislation, which also calls for regulation along the lines of how alcohol is handled. The state legalized medical marijuana in 1998.

In Colorado, where medicinal marijuana was approved more than a decade ago, a new rule seeks to further decriminalize the drug by regulating it in a similar way to alcohol. Amendment 64 has been slated for the Colorado ballot since February 27. 

In all three states, current polling shows the public favoring putting an end to the prohibition on marijuana, though not always by a large margin. In late June the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found support for Colorado's Amendment 64 at 46% and opposition at 42%. Democrats and Independents favor its passage while more Republicans are against it. Seniors largely oppose the measure, but every other age group (including young voters by a 58% vs. 33%) supports it.  


A June Rasmussen poll showed Colorado’s support for legalizing marijuana even higher at 61% as long as it is regulated in a similar manner to alcohol and cigarettes. 

In Washington the numbers are similar. Public Policy Polling showed support has risen a few percentage points from 47% to 50% as of June 19. Again, Democrats and Independents favor legalization, as do those under the age of 65, while Republicans and seniors generally oppose it.

Polling data is not yet available for Oregon. Oregon was the first state in the Union to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis possession, but efforts in 2010 to force a vote on the OCTA failed to gather the 83,000 required signatures.

Should all three states pass measures legalizing the use and regulation of cannabis, a "domino" effect is possible among other “blue states,” but others say we may see a repeat of Gonzales vs. Raich in which the Supreme Court’s decision that the federal government has the right to criminalize marijuana even in states where medicinal marijuana has been approved kicked off a battle on states' rights. 

What's clear is this: support for cannabis legalization has never been—to indulge an irresistible cliche—higher. Younger, millennial voters support cannabis legalization at rates even Generation X never did, demonstrating where we’re headed.

A recent Gallup poll showed more Americans support legalizing marijuana than ever before.  Liberals, moderates, Independents, and Democrats are leading the charge, as are the young. Support among the 18- to 29-year-old set is pegged at 62%; support among 30- to 49-year-olds is at 56%; and support from the 50 to 64 age group is at 49%. Only 31% of those over 65 favor legalization. 

Zach Wahls is a sixth-generation Iowan, author of My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family, Green Bay Packers fan and a commentator on LGBT and youth issues. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.