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.
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.
“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.
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.
- Money counts.
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!
- Lastly, California is the real main event.