Across the country millions Americans are going to be voting this November on marijuana reform. Initiatives about marijuana will likely be on the ballot in at least seven states and numerous cities. Voters in Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Arkansas will likely be deciding on whether or not to approve marijuana for medical use in their states. Montana residents will face a referendum on changes to their medical marijuana laws. Most significantly, in Oregon, Washington State and Colorado voters will have the opportunity to completely legalize marijuana.
The bulk of these states are either so reliably blue, like Washington, or reliably red, like Arkansas, that they will be effectively ignored by the major presidential candidates this year, but that is not true of Colorado. Colorado is among the swingest of the presidential swing states. It is possible that Colorado could end up being the decisive state this election. That is why it was selected to hold the first of the Presidential debates, which will be about domestic issues.
As a result President Obama and Mitt Romney are going to be spending a lot of time and money in the state. While they could relatively easily ignore the marijuana initiatives in the other states, it won’t be easy for them to ignore Amendment 64, which would legalize cannabis in Colorado.
Even if amendment 64 wasn’t on the ballot in Colorado, the candidates would still have a tough time avoiding questions about marijuana in that state. Back in 2000 voters in the state approved medical marijuana. Since then the state has developed one of the largest and best run medical marijuana industries. Already this cycle Colorado is where the media forced Romney to face questions about his stance against medical marijuana. With the state potentially taking a leading role in what could be a small wave of marijuana legalization efforts this year, the stakes are significantly higher now.
A final factor that will make it even harder for both Obama and Romney to ignore the issue of marijuana while in Colorado is former New Mexico governor and Libertarian candidate for president Gary Johnson. With his socially liberal and fiscally conservative position, he potentially could draw supporters away from Obama or Romney. Johnson knows marijuana legalization is one of his most popular stances that distinguishes him for the major candidates, both of whom have taken very unpopular positions in opposition to even medical marijuana. Johnson also knows that Colorado, a swing state that directly neighbors his home state, with legalization on the ballot, gives him one of his best openings. It is one of his big selling points in the state.
So far this election both Obama and Romney have been very reluctant to discuss marijuana policy, but the need for them to campaign in Colorado may force them to talk about it anyway. It has already had the effect before this cycle, and things should only get more intense as the election day nears.