Legalization 2016 — the order of battle

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Paul Danish/Sue France

Barring last minute legal thunderbolts, the stage is set for this year’s marijuana legalization initiatives.

Five states — California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine — will vote on initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana. Four more states — Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana — will have medical marijuana initiatives on their ballots.

There hasn’t been much in the way of new polling on them recently; but here’s how their prospects look on the strength of polls taken over the summer and news reports from the various states.

The initiatives in two states — Massachusetts and Arizona — are in trouble.

In Massachusetts, a poll released on July 20 found 51 percent of the voters opposed to legalization versus 41 percent in favor.

Earlier polls had shown the initiative ahead, but that was before organized opposition emerged, led by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and a number of other Massachusetts elected officials. The opponents drew business, law enforcement and teachers’ organizations into the anti-legalization effort, and they got a lot of earned media over the summer. They didn’t seem to encounter a lot of push back from the pro-legalization camp, which was focused on completing the process of getting the initiative onto the ballot. Whether the situation can be turned around will likely depend on what sort of a media campaign the pro-legalization side can mount after Labor Day.

In Arizona, the good news is that initiative supporters easily made it onto the ballot, submitting 258,582 signatures, 107,000 more than the minimum needed. The bad news is that a poll published on July 11 showed the measure trailing by 13 percentage points with 52.5 percent opposed. A year earlier polling found 53 percent in favor.

Things aren’t completely bleak in Arizona; supporters are said to have substantial resources available to them and should be able to mount a vigorous campaign.

The initiative with the best chance of passing is the one in California. The legalization measure, Proposition 64 (coincidentally a similar name to Colorado’s successful Amendment 64) was easily petitioned onto the ballot, and at least two polls have found more than 60 percent of those surveyed in favor of it. Supporters have raised $11 million, opponents only $185,000.

The initiative has been endorsed by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association and the California Democratic Party, among others. The most high profile opponent is Senator Dianne Feinstein.

In Nevada, a poll taken by the Rasmussen organization between July 22-24 found the legalization initiative had a 50 percent to 41 percent lead. The pro-legalization camp has made a $800,000 media buy on Nevada TV stations. So far there has been virtually no activity from the anti-legalization camp, but that is almost certainly misleading. Casino owner and multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is virulently anti-pot, will likely pour millions into an effort to defeat the initiative.

In Maine, a poll taken in mid-May found 55 percent support for legalization. That seems to be the most recent poll. The initiative survived a ham-fisted attempt by the Maine Secretary of State to keep it off the ballot by disqualifying thousands of petition signatures on a technicality; supporters swiftly went to court and won. Beyond that, little is known about how things are going.

On the medical marijuana side, the Florida initiative seems to have a good chance of passing this year. The most recent poll shows 68 percent support. However the initiative needs 60 percent support to pass. In 2014 a similar initiative came close with 58 percent. The pro-legalization campaign is well funded, but the opponents will probably mount a multimillion-dollar attack funded by Adelson, who also funded the successful campaign to kill the 2014 initiative.

In Arkansas, there might be two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot. A June 21 poll of 751 likely voters found 58 percent support for medical marijuana.

In North Dakota, one of the most socially conservative states in the country, a medical marijuana initiative has been petitioned onto the ballot. One poll appears to show plurality support (at 47 percent) on the issue, but the fact that there was sufficient support to petition it onto the ballot in the first place is in itself noteworthy.

In Montana, an existing medical marijuana initiative was gutted by the legislature. An initiative to restore it made the ballot this year and appears to have strong support.

Chances are there will be an avalanche of polling data and news on all of these initiatives after Labor Day. Stay tuned.

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