Are you registered to vote?
If you are not registered to vote, it doesn’t really matter why. Just register. Why you should register is addressed below, but that doesn’t really matter either. Just do it. Go to the website Project Vote Smart, enter you state and it will give you the information you need to register. Do that now, and then post a comment below about the site and what it takes to register to vote in your state.
One of the reasons marijuana is being legalized in the United States is because people vote. They voted for legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
In 2015 and 2016, people in other states will have the opportunity to vote to legalize marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use. But voter referendums are not the only vehicle to legalization, and legalizing marijuana is not the only reason to register to vote—nor the only reason to vote.
Consider the following facts.
There are about 219 million Americans eligible to vote in the United States. Two-thirds of them, 146 million, are actually registered to vote. Of these, 126 million voted in the 2012 presidential election—that’s 57 percent of eligible voters.
Marijuana use is most popular among young adults—the same segment of the population with the smallest percentage of voter registration in the United States. If you want to simplify why marijuana is illegal, this explains it.
The people who use marijuana have less political influence than people who don’t use marijuana because they are less likely to vote.
Of those aged 35 to 44, 69.9 percent are registered to vote. The 45 and older age groups have registration percentages of 70 percent or higher. Of those older than 55, over 75 percent are registered.
However, in the 18 to 24 age group, only 58.5 percent are registered to vote. Voter registration increases with age. Why is that? Because people figure out that they have more influence over lawmakers if they register and vote.
Do you want more influence? Register, and then vote.
People have a lot of excuses for not voting. They are too busy, or not interested, or they don’t like the candidates or the issues. It doesn’t matter. The crucial point here is that you have to vote if you want to see change in marijuana laws and in society in general.
A lot of people don’t vote because they think the political system is rigged against them.
Here is how that happens. The most important elections have the smallest voter turnout, allowing the people who do vote and the candidates they elect to change the rules to make sure they have the most power.
The most important elections are for state lawmakers.
Elections for state legislators have the lowest turnout. Lots of people vote for president. Far less for the state legislature. But the state legislature is not only responsible for state marijuana laws, these legislators also write the rules for voting, and they determine the size of the voting districts for both the state and the national legislature.
The rules for voting can be used to decrease the number of people who vote. Policies like requiring identification (Voter ID laws), restricting the number of polling places and restricting the time in which people can vote (such as eliminating early voting) are all factors that affect how many people vote—and tend to favor conservative voters and conservative legislators resistant to social change.
Creating voting districts with a majority of conservative voters helps to dilute the votes of people in favor of social change by making sure there isn’t enough of them to elect legislators in favor of reforms, such as marijuana legalization.
This is called gerrymandering, and it’s why the system seems unfair—the political party in power uses their power to get an unfair advantage.
The people who maintain prohibition are the same people who pass restrictive voting laws and gerrymander voting districts. This is why marijuana legalization has had to rely on the referendum process, submitting legalization directly to voters, in order to succeed. Politicians of both political parties are beginning to realize, though, the breadth and depth of public support for marijuana legalization. Soon legislatures will begin to support legalization.
But that’s not the point.
Marijuana users must vote in order to advance marijuana legalization, but they must also vote for other reasons. They must vote in order to increase their political power, their power to protect legalization and more importantly to make sure that legalization is enacted in ways that protect their rights as marijuana consumers—with reasonable taxes; an open market for cultivation and sales; sensible regulations regarding labeling, advertising and age restrictions; and recognition of the right to grow marijuana for personal use.
Indeed, marijuana users must register and vote in every election to protect civil rights and civil liberties and to promote sensible public policy in a number of areas. But these are additional issues deserving of additional discussion.
When it comes to marijuana law reform and advancing marijuana legalization, every vote count. This means every single eligible person should register and vote and every eligible voter should vote in every election. Every voter, every election.
Finally, what about elections in which none of the candidates support marijuana legalization? Vote for the candidate who will provide the greatest and most consistent support for civil and voting rights and is the most responsive to the interests of young adults and minorities—the most frequent victims of prohibition.
If you haven’t already done so, visit Project Vote Smart right now and find out how you can register to vote. Then take a look at the rest of their website and learn more about how to be a smart voter.