When Secretary of State Michele Reagan put her stamp of approval on petitions bearing 177,000 signatures in Phoenix Thursday, Arizona became the fifth state to schedule a ballot measure for November on legalizing recreational marijuana — joining California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts.
Each of the measures calls for making it legal for people over age 21 to possess small amounts of pot, taxing the drug and allowing regulated stores to sell it. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota will vote this fall on legalizing medical marijuana. And Oklahoma may yet join the fray.
The activity is a sign of just how much momentum the movement has picked up in only a few years. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot measures making the sale and use of pot legal. Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia followed in 2014. Twenty-five states and D.C. have medical marijuana laws, and others have decriminalized small amounts of the drug.
As the movement has grown, the politics behind marijuana is also undergoing a subtle shift. Though traditional pro-pot activists have given the bulk of the money supporting the five recreational pot ballot measure campaigns — roughly $7 million of the $11.6 million raised so far — more and more of the backers are coming from the new but growing marijuana industry. Two-thirds of the big donors — those giving at least $5,000 to the campaigns for this fall’s measures — have direct financial stakes in the weed business, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records.
A new group of players
Indeed, as legalized pot grows in state after state, so has the industrial complex around it. This year, though, marks the first time this new legal pot industry has significantly contributed to making itself bigger. Now the movement’s campaigns are starting to resemble most other big-money ballot measure fights, with business-minded donors looking to protect or enhance their profits.
“It has gone from an activist influence and is in transition to an industry influence,” said Joe Brezny, who is directing Nevada’s legalization campaign and also co-founded the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association. “The industry is required to step up more now.”