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November 19, 2012

Female voters seen as key to success of pot reform initiatives

The Atlantic has this notable new article reviewing the electorial success of the marijuana initiatives in Colorado and Washington.  The piece is headlined "The Secret Ingredients for Marijuana Legalization: Moms and Hispanics," and here are excerpts:

A few days before last Tuesday's election, New Approach Washington, the group pushing a ballot issue to legalize marijuana in the state, posted its final ad of the campaign. The spot featured a "Washington mom" -- a woman in her mid-40s, sitting on her porch, flanked by pumpkins -- who took the viewer through the assorted restrictions and benefits both minors and businesses would see once the measure, Initiative 502, was implemented: ID checks. Fewer profits for the cartels. Increased funds for schools. More time for police to "focus on violent crime instead."  In short, all of the top concerns that an average mom in the Evergreen State would seem to have about making pot legal.

But New Approach's ad was about more than just capturing the votes of a major demographic -- the same one that helped reelect President Obama and the one that kept GOP Senate hopefuls Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin at bay.  Legalization advocates have found that female support tends to be a leading indicator for marijuana measures. In the case of both California's 2010 and Colorado's 2006 votes, sagging support among women preceded a collapse in men's support too.  In California, for instance, support from women saw a 14-point swing against legalization over the final six weeks, dragging support from men under 50 percent.

"Historically, as soon as women really start to create a [gender] gap, a marijuana measure gets killed," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.  "If women get weak-kneed, the men will start to drop."

Armed with that knowledge about why previous attempts had failed, campaigns in both Washington and Colorado set out to court women . Their efforts appear to have paid off. Both states approved measures legalizing marijuana with the backing of some 55 percent of the electorate.  That was stronger than even proponents expected -- they had been cautiously optimistic about the Washington vote, but the Colorado measure appeared to be fading down the stretch. (Advocates in Oregon, where a marijuana-legalization measure failed on Tuesday, faced larger problems than merely enlisting females -- too little time to canvass, too few funds to spend.)

Convincing women -- mothers, especially -- that legalization wasn't simply about stoners and libertarians was essential to ending blanket prohibition.  They needed to be assured this was sound policy and that their children would not be affected. "We definitely wanted to reach [women]," says Tonia Winchester, the outreach director behind the Yes on I-502 camp.  "We were very much focused on not being a pro-pot campaign but a pro-policy campaign, showing that we could shift resources from incarcerating and focus on programs we knew would work."...

[W]omen aren't the sole demographic pro-legalization camps eyed.  After all, much as Obama's reelection showed that the Anglo-Christian-male bloc has become insufficient for victory -- if, as David Simon wrote, "there is no normal" -- marijuana backers understood they'd need to cultivate their own coalition of communities.

Perhaps predictably, a strong majority of the under-65 crowd showed support for measures in both states, leaving seniors as the sole age-based demographic demurring.  The big surprise came in the ethnic breakdown.  While there isn't sufficient polling on non-whites in Washington to draw conclusions, Colorado -- where the white population split on the measure -- saw Latinos support legalization at a 70 percent rate, double the national rate among the group....

Winchester says her organization also focused efforts on campaigning in Washington's Latino community, meaning that women, youth, and minorities -- the triumvirate that sealed Obama's second term -- played a similarly pivotal role in ending marijuana prohibition in both states....

Now that his organization has arrived at the hemp-lined embankments on the far side of the Rubicon, St. Pierre noted the momentum and demographics were firmly on legalizers' sides. With the victories -- and with the new numbers from a Washington Post national survey showing that 48 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, the highest number in the history of the poll -- St. Pierre laid out a handful of states that he thinks may be the next to pass outright marijuana legalization, including Vermont and Maine, as well as second attempts in California and Oregon.

November 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM | Permalink


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"With the victories -- and with the new numbers from a Washington Post national survey showing that 48 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization..."

Remind me to explain the winning importance of 48% to Mr. 48% himself, President-elect Romney.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 20, 2012 3:02:04 PM

It's just a matter of time until the cruel, failed drug war is no more.

Posted by: Eric Leslie | Nov 20, 2012 4:44:48 PM

Eric Leslie --

"It's just a matter of time until the cruel, failed drug war is no more."

Please send me your crystal ball. Is it the same crystal ball, by chance, that predicted ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a permanent Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the end of the death penalty in the 1970's?

Plus, I see you mentioned the "drug war." That covers a lot of territory. Are you predicting the legalization of heroin, LSD and meth as well? Do you favor their legalization?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 20, 2012 5:10:10 PM

@Eric Leslie
I remember pro-lifers saying something in the early 1990's. Nothing is certain.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 22, 2012 8:45:14 PM

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