As marijuana becomes more and more legal, the nature of marijuana politics will change. At first glance, the movement to legalize marijuana appears to be a solid front of reformers competing with prohibition supporters in order to enact legalization measures in various states. In this big picture perspective, advocates, consumers and entrepreneurs appear to all be on the same side.
The success of legalization measures transforms entrepreneurs into an industry. Some retain the values they had as advocates and consumers. Some were never advocates or consumers and are driven by economic incentives to support reform and/or to take advantage of the opportunities of the new legal market. That’s fine, that’s America. Realistically, industry and consumers have different interests when it comes to regulation and regulatory frameworks. And, for that matter, governments and legislatures also have different interests on this subject—some specific to government and others that overlap with industry, consumers or both.
Indeed, the clash of interest between consumers and industry is already apparent in states where different initiatives to legalize marijuana have competed to gain support and make the ballot this year. It happened in California and Arizona, for example, and it will happen in other states in the future.
Ballot initiatives are valuable (and successful) ways to get the marijuana legalization issue before the public and enacted into law. But they are, in some respects, not very good vehicles for enacting regulatory frameworks. The initiative process is, eventually, a take-it-or-leave it approach to legislating. There is no role for fact finding, for soliciting input from interested parties potentially affected by the legislation, for considering expert testimony, for analysis of important issues or for forging political compromises that can address a wide scope of both consumer and industry concerns.
The nature of the ballot initiative process carries a risk that initial versions of marijuana legalization will have flaws. This creates a dilemma for some consumers and the appeal for some that voting against a flawed measure will allow for passage of a better one later on.
This problem is due to the flawed nature of ballot initiatives, and the best solution is to pass marijuana legalization measures as long as they can be improved over time by way of the legislative process.
In both the ballot initiative process and the legislative process, there will be competition between consumers and industry. How can consumers increase their power and affect the outcome of this competition? Easy—register and vote.
Many supporters of marijuana legalization, and many marijuana users, are young adults. Who gets arrested the most for marijuana offenses? Males between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest arrest rate for marijuana possession of any age group. Nonetheless, this demographic is notorious for not voting. When young people vote, amazing things happen—such as the election of the first African-American president in the history of the United States. What happens when they don’t vote? Conservative Republicans take control of the United States Congress.
Voting gives citizens power. The way for marijuana consumers to spread legalization, secure rights for personal cultivation and open up access to participate in the marijuana market is to register and vote. This means registering and voting, but it also means getting everyone you know to do the same.
Voting means that politicians have to pay attention to your interests, as they want your vote. Voting is the most powerful weapon individuals have to counter the influence of special interests and compete with the political influence of industry groups in battles of regulatory issues.
Increasing the political power of marijuana consumers is the first, fundamental step to increasing the political influence of marijuana consumers, especially in regulatory battles affecting the marijuana market. Increasing the number of marijuana consumers who vote is how consumers capture influence over marijuana’s legalization and regulation.
It’s not a matter of voting down flawed ballot initiatives, as this delays or even prevents marijuana legalization. It’s a matter of organizing for the real battle set up by the passage of any form of legalization—protecting the interests of cannabis consumers in the ongoing legislative battle between consumers and industry.
Don’t fight the last battle, fight the next one. Register, vote and get more and more people to do the same. That is how consumers can capture the market.