When longstanding political issues start to shift, once the ice is broken the change can happen relatively quickly. A recent example is the legalization of gay marriage, which I had hoped would happen, but until a few years ago never thought would take place in my lifetime. But now, a majority of US citizens live in states where gay marriage is legal.
Tonight we are witnessing the growth of another wave. Oregon just overwhelmingly voted to legalize recreational marijuana, despite rejecting similar proposals in the last two elections. Washington DC legalized the possession of limited amounts of marijuana (but not sale). As of right now, Alaska’s legalization measure is ahead. Guam also legalized. The only place legalization failed this time around was Florida (legalization received 58% of the vote, but required at least 60% to pass).
Ironically, I think marijuana legalization is a case of “follow the money”. In the past, legalization measures have often failed because of money spent by people who had the most to lose, not just alcohol distributors but also people and groups that sold marijuana illegally.
Previously, there were not enough groups that were making money off of marijuana to sponsor further legalization efforts. But once legalization happened in Washington state and Colorado, that industry started making money. And there is nothing an industry likes as much as new markets! In fact, the majority of the money raised by the pro-legalization effort in Oregon came from wealthy donors from outside Oregon.
Also like gay marriage, as states legalize marijuana it will reassure voters that there is nothing to fear. Gays started getting married and the sky did not fall. God didn’t smite anybody. In fact, legalizing gay marriage was something of a non-event (except for those happy people who were able to marry the ones they loved). The main news coming out of states that legalized marijuana is that they are making money taxing it.
As each state legalizes, the pace will increase. I predict that it is virtually certain that California will legalize marijuana in the upcoming presidential election. I wouldn’t be surprised if other states legalize then as well.
UPDATE: Alaska, did approve legalization. They are the first strongly Republican state to legalize so it is no longer just a Democratic party issue. Even Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul is OK with legalization.
And last night also hinted at a new wave — five states (Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Arkansas) raised the minimum wage, including several states where Republicans swept the election. For example, in Arkansas the Republican challenger ousted the Democratic incumbent in the Senate, yet a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage received around two-thirds of the vote.