It’s the year 2019 and everyone in the United States is contemplating how best to save democracy. For many, and very much so in the case of voter registration group HeadCount, that is best accomplished by making sure as many US residents are signed up to vote as possible. One day, the group’s founder went to a Cannabis Cup and realized that marijuana may well be the most compelling, relatively non-partisan issue we have today. The Cannabis Voter Project was born from a desire to utilize that dank tool for political engagement.
“It was really inspiring,” founder Andy Bernstein told High Times in a recent interview, of that fateful 2015 trip to the weed competition in Denver. “I could see history unfolding in front of me and a whole culture coming out of the shadows. I knew there were a ton of people in this community that have a lot at stake in each election — especially as it relates to cannabis policy — but might not currently be participating.”
For CVP, that means not only getting these cannabis-oriented voters registered, but also connecting them to helpful information on where their elected officials stand on leafy green issues. Go to the CVP website and you will find politicians assessed on the basis of their support for widening access to cannabis. Your humble writer, for example, clicked through only to have her suspicions confirmed that Representative Nancy Pelosi has yet to express support for ending federal cannabis prohibition. (Though she does get high scores on supporting states’ rights, letting VA doctors recommend marijuana, and providing banking rights to weed businesses. It’s a start.) There are also prompts so that visitors can reach out to these elected representatives to inquire about their future plans for supporting marijuana causes.
“What we love about cannabis as an issue is that it’s truly non-partisan and cuts across party lines,” says CVP director Sam D’Arcangelo.
He is not wrong that this kind of information is proving relevant to more and more voters regardless of political affiliation. For the first time since the poll started recording data in 1973, the 2019 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey found that a majority of Republicans — 54 percent — now back marijuana legalization. 76 percent of Democrats have expressed their support for legalization. The same poll found that a full 72 percent of US residents age 18-34 back ending cannabis prohibition, a heartening sign that the rising generations may be able to get a stake erected in the war on drugs’ cold, dead heart one of these days.
However, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that the fate of democracy rests on preventing a certain despot, Cannabis Voter Project and HeadCount’s non-partisan nature is a complex one. There are certain perils in CVP’s mission to encourage voting on cannabis as a single issue. After all, there are many pressing issues out there that go beyond marijuana. Not to mention, one of the Democratic Party’s front-runners Joe Biden arguably has a more retrograde opinion on marijuana legalization than Donald Trump. The rest of Trump’s challengers, from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have expressed their support for nationwide cannabis legalization.
HeadCount has provided voter registration support at events sponsored by March For Our Lives, a gun control organization whose mission runs contrary to what many see as one of the Republican Party’s seemingly core tenets of obsequiousness to the NRA. But CVP and its parent organization remain strictly non-partisan. “HeadCount’s mission is to get people voting and participating, regardless of their party or where they stand on any issue,” clarifies D’Arcangelo.
Surely, his team knows about running an effective voter registration drive. Since 2004, HeadStart has registered over 600,000 people to vote in the United States. The group has accomplished that by sending volunteers out to music concerts and other events, as well as their internet-based efforts. “Concerts and music festivals are the perfect place to connect with people where they’re already at,” says D’Arcangelo.
As cannabis becomes legal in more and more places, the Cannabis Voter Project has even been able to set up shop at events linking attendees with an actual buzz. It had a booth at the world’s first-ever legal cannabis sales operation at this year’s Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco. Attendees bought seven figures of edibles, flower, and vape cartridges over the course of the weekend at the festival’s “Grass Lands” section, and CVP was there to talk about why people need to get registered if they want opportunities like that to continue.
“It was very exciting to be part of such a historic event for the cannabis community,” says D’Arcangelo. “I don’t think most of the people who came to Grass Lands expected to see us; so many of them were pleasantly surprised to find out they could take action on an issue that was important to them while they were there.”
The CVP mission continues to expand. The organization is currently running a dispensary outreach program with Terrapin Care Station that encourages customers to get in touch with their elected officials about cannabis issues. Attendees of Santa Rosa’s Emerald Cup in December will be able to get a side of political awareness with their cannabis competition at a CVP booth as well.
“Most people don’t think about their voter registration status on a regular basis, so you have good chance of reaching them if you make getting registered as easy and convenient as possible,” says D’Arcangelo. Signing up to vote between puffs at a music festival seems about as pain-free as possible, when you get right down to it.
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