.Why Moms Will Decide If California Legalizes in 2016

Women ages 30 to 55 are not only the most pivotal demographic group for cannabis law reform, they’re reform’s most fickle voter. Any effort to pass an adult-use tax and regulate initiative in California in 2016 must get women early, and hold onto them as opponents try to scare them off, a new research paper finds.

The Global Drug Policy Observatory’s Emily Crick, Mark Cooke, and Dave Bewley-Taylor analyzed three states — Washington, Colorado, and Oregon — for their new policy brief, “Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012

Looking at those three states, the researchers found that “the Washington and Colorado campaigns targeted key demographic groups, particularly 30-50 year old women, who were likely to be initially supportive of reform but then switch their allegiance to the ‘no’ vote.”

[jump] “Two key messages in Washington and Colorado were that legalization, taxation, and regulation will (i) free up scarce law enforcement resources to focus on more serious crimes and (ii) will create new tax revenue for worthy causes.”

In 2012, Washington’s Initiative 502 and Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed with 55.7% and 55.3% of the vote, respectively. Oregon’s Measure 80 failed with 53.4% of those voting to reject the measure.

The researchers also took another look at California’s failed Proposition 19 in 2010 and had some troubling takeaways.

California’s 2016 legalizers not only have to hold onto mainstream women, but deal with California’s growers — who want economic protection — and smokers in Californians conservative counties like Fresno, who want the state to force those counties to allow pot locally.

“Despite polls showing high levels of support – polling a month before the vote showed 52% of voters were likely to support the measure – the [California] vote failed by 53.5%–46.5%. It is worth quickly summarizing some of the reasons put forward for the failure of Prop 19, because campaigners for tax and regulate ballots in other states looked to this experience in order to learn from it.

“Some have argued that Prop 19 failed in part due to a low youth voter turnout, a pattern common in years that are not presidential elections. Other explanations for the failure of Prop 19 rest on the notion that regulation and taxation would have been imposed at the county level; meaning that the state would suffer from a messy patchwork of different laws, and the cheapest tax jurisdiction would have become the main market supplier.

“The measure’s failure to impose uniform statewide regulation also became a major point of attack by opponents of the initiative during the campaign and it should be noted that despite failing to secure enough votes, a post-election poll revealed that 50% of voters believed cannabis should be legal, but some voted ‘no’ to the Proposition due to issues with the specifics of the regulations.

“Although the youth vote – or lack of it in the California case – is vital in ballot measures of this type, campaign strategists failed to target specific messages to this group perhaps because they took support by the younger demographic for granted.

“Prop 19 also suffered from lack of support from some in the medical cannabis industry: the three counties that grew the majority of cannabis for the medical market in California all voted resoundingly against Prop 19 and it has been argued that the interests of growers in maintaining their market privilege did much to generate opposition to the proposals.”

Here’s some other takeaways:


  • Washington sacrificed some of the youth vote in exchange for more moms.

“[K]ey demographics such as 30–50 year old women … had specific concerns about youth access and impaired driving. The issue of impaired driving became quite controversial because [I-502] imposed zero tolerance on people under 21 who were caught driving with the active ingredient of cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol, in their blood and was, as a result, seen as unnecessarily targeting young people.”

By contrast in Oregon in 2012, “the campaign focussed largely on grassroots supporters rather than targeting voters who do not use cannabis but are open to reform.”

  • Tell moms where the money is going.

“Campaigners also found that voters wanted to know how their tax dollars would be spent and so part of the campaign focused on where the money would go. In Washington it will be allocated to health care, prevention and education programs, and evaluation and research.

“In both states, campaigners also found that spelling out how the tax dollars will be spent chimed well with voters, especially those that had not made their minds up.”

  • Optics count. The face of legalization needs to be people moms trust, not, say, a pot dealer from Oakland.

“[P]ro-reform campaign organizers [in Washington] worked to get the right messengers on their side: they focused on getting doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, faith leaders and groups such as the Children’s Alliance to endorse publicly their campaign.”

In Colorado, “Television and online advertisements ranged from the ‘Safer Communities’ message with a Denver police officer arguing that regulation will allow them to focus on serious crime rather than arresting users …

“Additional endorsements came in the final months of the campaign from thirteen newspapers in Washington State, with the Seattle Times, the Spokesman Review and The Columbian, all announcing their support for the initiative.”

  • Do A/B testing. The I-502 campaign ran messaging for moms in Seattle but not in Spokane and polled again after two weeks.

“The polling revealed that it was effective with women aged 30-50, increasing their likelihood of support for I-502 by 8 points. This experiment is a good illustration of the sophistication of the I-502 campaign and highlights the importance of polling in cannabis reform campaigns.”

  • Money counts.

Washington spent $6 million on TV ads. In Colorado, “We did learn that if you can buy ads those do in fact pick up polling numbers for you and change things.”

By contrast Oregon in 2012 was under-funded. “With a lack of campaign funding, ill-conceived language and drafting, and a lack of sophisticated campaign messages, M-80 was always going to be on the back foot.”

  • And watch out for the attorney general!

Eric Holder helped kill Prop 19 before it could be born, but went radio silent in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. “It remains unknown why Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice remained taciturn in 2012, but it should be noted that Colorado was a crucial swing state in the Presidential election and therefore the Obama campaign may have wanted to avoid weighing in on a controversial social issue in a highly contested electoral state.”

  • Lastly, California is the real main event.

I-502’s Allison Holcombe notes. “California is a big player and I think it’s the domino that pushes the rest of the United States quickly and decisively.’  


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