Over the past year, Colorado has emerged as one of, if not the most, likely states to pass a marijuana legalization initiative in 2012. This has sparked a fair amount of discussion about whether voters in this state are truly ready to pull the trigger come next November. There’s a good argument to be made that they are.
In the past 10 or so months there have been several polls conducted on the issue, all of which bode pretty well for reform supporters. The latest, conducted in August by Public Policy Polling, found that 51 percent of likely voters support legalization compared to 38 percent opposed. Marijuana reform advocates have arrived at a relatively similar conclusion with internally commissioned polls showing between 51 and 54 percent of likely voters in support and around 40 to 42 percent opposed.
Those are certainly promising numbers, but perhaps some of the most compelling are those reported by SurveyUSA, who posited the legalization question to likely voters just before the 2010 election. The poll found 46 percent in support, 43 percent opposed, and 11 percent expressing no opinion. These figures are particularly intriguing because they are based on likely voters in a midterm election year, who are typically older and more conservative. Younger voters, on the other hand, tend to vote primarily in presidential election years and are typically the most supportive of reform.
The takeaway from this poll is that there is pretty strong support for legalization in Colorado even in an off-year election, meaning we’ll have quite an advantage come the 2012 presidential election. A good example of this concept can be found in the outcome of the unsuccessful 2010 legalization campaign in California. Extensive research conducted after that election concluded that, had it been a presidential election year, the exact same initiative would have received 49 percent support instead of 46 percent.
It is also worth noting that nationwide, public support for ending marijuana prohibition has been slowly trending upward every year with some states seeing an annual gain of about one to two percentage points. In Colorado, support appears to have increased about 5 to 10 percent since 2006, when a legalization initiative received 41 percent of the vote.
Clearly, a 2012 Colorado legalization effort has a lot going for it, including the potential to win. But that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing through next November. As Public Policy Polling reported in August:
“These are encouraging numbers for [Colorado] legalization proponents but it's important to remember that California's proposal for legalizing marijuana last year polled pretty well until completely collapsing in the final month before the election. There's a long road ahead.”
This could not be more true. The 2012 election is still over a year away and there is still a lot of work to be done to solidify and build support among the electorate. After all, some of those polls show upwards of 11 percent of respondents saying they have no opinion or are undecided. Moreover, there are a whole lot of people out there who agree that marijuana should be legal, but are not sure Colorado is ready yet.
Over the next year we must reach these people, educate them on the issue, and make sure they are comfortable with it when they go to cast their votes. We must provide them with the facts about the substance – particularly that it is far safer than alcohol – and we need to articulate the many benefits of regulating it as opposed to leaving it to the black market. If we are successful, Coloradans will demonstrate on Election Day 2012, that they are in fact ready to end marijuana prohibition.
Find out more about the 2012 campaign to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado at www.EqualizeIt2012.org.