What Colorado in 2012 teaches us about how pot might affect the presidential election

Mother Jones took a look at legalization measures on the ballot this year and how they might help — or not — Hillary Clinton’s chances in swing states.

staff photo
The Democratic platform committee endorsed down-scheduling Marijuana. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Marijuana (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mother Jones took a look at various legalization measures on the ballot this year and how they might help — or not — Hillary Clinton’s chances in swing states.

Some political analysts see ballot measures as a way to boost turnout in key constituencies. The anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments on the ballot in 11 states in 2004 are widely seen as giving George W. Bush a lift from conservative religious voters. (I’m not about to call them “values” voters. We all have values.)

Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, was on the ballot here in 2012 and might have helped Barack Obama take Colorado. Now, Obama’s win also might be part of a long-term blue-ing trend in Colorado, but more men than women voted for him here in 2012, which is the opposite of the usual gender gap. One pollster speculates to Mother Jones that the marijuana vote drew more young men to the polls and helps explain the difference.

Four years later, marijuana is on the ballot in nine states, with five voting on recreational marijuana and four voting on medical.

Democrats hope the measures will be a draw for liberal voters. The conventional wisdom, says Josh Altic of the nonpartisan political reference site Ballotpedia, is that marijuana measures attract a lot of young voters who support legalization but wouldn’t otherwise vote, and that these voters overwhelmingly support Democrats.

But what was true then might not be as true now. Marijuana legalization has become a mainstream position. Nearly 60 percent of voters aged 50 to 64 support legalization, and more than 60 percent of Republican millennials support legalization, according to recent polls.

“A random person who said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to vote for marijuana legalization,’ I would no longer assume they were going to vote Democrat,” says Altic.

“We’re seeing Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, even people from the Green Party be a part of this,” says Carlos Alfaro, the Arizona political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backs a marijuana legalization measure in the state. “The Democrats see this as a good way to get voters out there, but I don’t think it’s in any way a partisan issue, just based on the amount of responses we’ve gotten.”

Marijuana is old-hat by now in Colorado, but Mother Jones notes there are two measures on the ballot that could increase turn-out by traditional Democratic constituencies: minimum wage and single-payer healthcare.

Assistant Editor Erica Meltzer can be reached via email at emeltzer@denverite.com or twitter.com/meltzere.

Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here.