Selling cannabis regulation: Learning from ballot initiatives in the United States in 2012


Selling cannabis regulation: Learning from ballot initiatives in the United States in 2012

8 December 2014

In 2012, voters in the US states of Washington, Colorado and Oregon were given the opportunity to vote in ballot initiatives for the creation of legally regulated cannabis markets. Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 both passed with 55.7% and 55.3% of the vote respectively. Oregon’s Measure 80 failed with 53.4% of those voting rejecting the measure. As calls for and legal processes towards the initiation of cannabis policy reform become more common within US states, it is a timely and useful exercise to reflect upon the campaigns for reform in Washington (WA), Colorado (CO) and Oregon (OR) and examine why the public supported cannabis policy reform in some instances and not others.

Within the United States of America there is a broad and growing consensus that the policy of prohibiting the use of cannabis for anything other than scientific and medical purposes is failing. Yet, most voters still view recreational cannabis use in a negative light. Moreover, as the policy landscape shifts, there is mounting concern that overly commercial and under regulated cannabis policies, particularly those that could harm youth, are not desirable either. Polling and interviews with experts from WA, CO, and OR indicate that swing voters, crucial to passing ballot initiatives, desire to have cannabis policies that are well thought out and not overly ideological. Strong regulations, dedicating tax revenue to education and public health programmes, and strong protections for youth seem to be particularly important to voters. As will be shown, these policy features also align with political messages that most strongly resonate with voters.

Drawing on and developing further the discussions within the GDPO Policy Report, Legally regulated markets in the US: Implications and possibilities, this policy brief will review and analyse what may lie behind the successes and failures of the ballot measures in Washington, Colorado and Oregon, as well as examine the changing national context for cannabis reform. It concludes by bringing together some of the lessons learned within these states in what has been referred to as the process of ‘selling’ policy ideas to the voting public.

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