As California voters make up their minds on Proposition 19, which would legalize the use of marijuana by any adult and allow state and local government to tax marijuana sales, speculation is beginning to swirl over whether this issue will retain its energy enough to crop up on ballots in other states in 2012.
The legalization of marijuana tends to be viewed more favorably by Democrats and by younger voters, who in the recent past have leaned more toward Democratic candidates than Republicans (68 percent of voters aged 18-29 voted for Obama in 2008, for example).
A late October poll conducted by SurveyUSA in Colorado found that marijuana legalization was favored by 46 percent of Coloradans and opposed by 43 percent. Given those numbers, don't be surprised if a Proposition 19-like initiative appears on the Colorado ballot in 2012. The goal would be -- besides legalizing marijuana, of course -- tilting voter turnout toward Democrats on the ballot.
This is a strategy that gained traction in 2004 with same-sex marriage appearing on the ballot in 13 states. The presence of that question on the Ohio ballot that year is widely credited with influencing voter turnout in favor of Republicans and tipping the scales in the presidential race to George Bush.
Will legalizing pot be the same-sex marriage of the 2012 elections? Clues will start to trickle in by late 2011, as initiative filing begins around the country.
Update! A new Gallup poll released today shows that it's not just Coloradans who are taking more positive views toward legalizing pot: support nationwide is up 10 points since 2006, with 46 percent of Americans now saying they support legalization and half saying they oppose it. The Gallup poll supports the idea that Democrats and young people are more likely to support legalization, as are voters in the western U.S. (where most of the initiative states happen to be too). Support is lowest in the South and among Republican, conservative voters and those age 65 and older.
This gives us all the more reason to believe that advocates will seize on this issue and hope to push their cause onto statewide ballots around the country in 2012, and that left-leaning groups will aid in that push in hopes that support for marijuana on statewide ballots might spill over and benefit their candidates.