Election Day: a watershed moment for pot 

Get ready for a BIG marijuana election.

What? You say that we are not voting for legalization on Nov. 9 because the Board of State Canvassers said the MI Legalize petition signatures were too old. That is indeed true. We're not voting on the question but chances are that marijuana is going to blow up big time after this year's election.

There are five states voting on recreational legalization this year — California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Maine — and the polls show that in every state where the question is on the ballot, the yeas lead the nays. Things could change over the next week, but it's a pretty sure bet that some state is going to say yes. And if that state is California, with its 39 million residents, it almost doesn't matter if any of the other states legalize. The California economy is larger than all but five countries.

If all of the states were to legalize, which could happen, nearly one in four Americans will live where prohibition has been repealed. That would create a map where the entire West Coast is free of prohibition. Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have already legalized. Add Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado to that, and it's obvious that the power of legalization is rolling out from the west. And wins in Massachusetts and Maine would establish a strong presence for legalization in the fairly friendly New England environment.

"In a nutshell, there's a lot riding on Election Day for our movement," says Tom Angell, chair of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority (marijuanamajority.com). "One way or the other, this is going to greatly influence the federal government's policy. If we win all of a sudden, there [will be] several dozen members of Congress who represent people where marijuana is legal. If we win a lot, we've got a lot more federal lawmakers who are incentivized to vote for bills against marijuana prohibition. If for some reason we see a number of embarrassing, crushing defeats, that stands to seriously interrupt what we have right now. It will go back to being a marginalized issue. There's a lot at stake."

There may be defeats, but they won't be crushing ­— at least if the polling holds up. In addition, there are a few more states voting on varying medical marijuana issues. Most notable is Florida, where a poll has showed 77 percent of voters intend to say yes to medical marijuana. In 2014, a medical marijuana law garnered 58 percent of the vote, but lost because it was written as a constitutional amendment requiring 60 percent of the vote. Another interesting spot is in Montana, where there is already a medical marijuana law, but legislators set severe limits on it. A new initiative repeals legislative limits such as the number of plants a patient can have, a regulation that doctors who provide 25 or more certifications per year be referred to the Board of Medical Examiners, the right of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of facilities, and more.

Angell says he feels confident about legalization in Florida. Marijuana initiatives are polling ahead, but are too close for comfort in some states, he adds, and opposition fundraising is cranking up in the weeks before the election.

"Thankfully, the two places I'm the most confident about, California and Florida, are by far the most important to win."

Florida would be the first southern state to have a real medical marijuana law. The only medical marijuana laws in the Old South are extremely restrictive, CBD-only laws. When you consider Florida's population of 19 million, the largest in the southeast, having a medical marijuana law will be geographically influential. The same thing goes for Massachusetts and Maine if those states legalize recreational marijuana. There has already been talk in the Rhode Island legislature about following suit if Massachusetts legalizes.

"Legalization has arrived on the East Coast," says Angell. "There will be a spillover effect. You're going to start to see the spillover effects of states in competition for the jobs and the taxes."

Not only is it on the East Coast, it may well move into the federal government. Hillary Clinton, who many project will win the presidential election, has called for more research to be done on the medical benefits of marijuana, and has said that Colorado and Washington state are the "laboratories of democracy" on the issue of recreational legalization. Clinton has suggested a rescheduling of marijuana's DEA classification.

It seems there are several more "laboratories" on the way for the next president to consider. And as the nation's view of marijuana evolves, Clinton has projected a hands-off approach. A recent Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, the highest number since the organization's first poll found 12 percent support in 1969.

"We've arrived," Angell says regarding the Gallup results. "The tipping point is here. It's no longer a majority, it's a marijuana super majority. It makes me feel good, vindicated about what we've been working for all these years. Marijuana legalization is way more popular than any presidential candidates. It's about time politicians recognized that and listen to the majority."

If the federal government reschedules marijuana — admitting that it has medical value — the most important stricture holding back researchers will be gone. The decision would need to be followed by some accommodations for the financial industry to engage marijuana businesses. Marijuana companies being able to freely bank would open up incredible opportunity. In anticipation of that, numerous companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of the new business.

Stocks for some businesses that have a relationship with marijuana but are not in direct contact with it are looking good. GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, saw its stock soar after positive test results for Epidiolex, a marijuana-based epilepsy drug. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has diversified its lawn and garden business into hydroponic growing systems, lights, soils, and other needs for growing marijuana. It's up $23 a share since this time last year.

Reports say that tobacco companies are positioning themselves to profit from a future legal marijuana market too. For instance, the same vaporizer technology for e-cigarettes can be used for marijuana extracts, not to mention they already produce a product that is grown and processed in a similar manner. With tobacco smoking trending down in the United States, these companies need a new product.

That's the vista for the post-election period. If the votes hold true to the polls, it's going to be a new world for marijuana. Legalization in California is going to open up a huge market, as it will in Florida. These are numbers that will increase pressure on the federal government to make some changes, and it will embolden more people in more states to push back against prohibition.

If you're looking for a watershed moment for marijuana, Nov. 8 is that moment.

More by Larry Gabriel

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