At first glance Alaska with its strong Republican leanings would seem like a bad target for what definitely could be the next marijuana legalization initiative campaign, but there are a three important factors that make it surprisingly promising.
1) Libertarian leaning – Alaska overwhelmingly backs the Republican party in federal elections and considering national polling shows most Republicans oppose marijuana legalization, this would seem to be a problem. However, Alaska’s politics are different from the lower 48. While technically a red state Alaska is far more on the small government/libertarian wing of the Republican party than the social conservative wing. This is good news for marijuana reform.
The state is significantly more libertarian leaning than the rest of the country. For example, last year Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson got his third largest share of the vote in Alaska. He only did better in New Mexico, where he served as governor, and Montana. Similarly, Alaska was one of the states Ron Paul did best during the 2012 Republican primary.
Alaska is also not a very religious state. According to Gallup, Alaska ranks 4th for having the most people with “no religious preference” and 9th for the fewest people who are “very religious.”
2) Very few old people – Alaska is an incredibly youthful state. It has by far the fewest senior citizens in the country. Only 8.1 percent of the state is over the age of 65 compared to a national average of 13.3 percent. National polling shows the generational divide on marijuana legalization is huge. While young people strongly support it, senior citizens are the only age group where a majority still oppose them. The fewer old people voting the better for any initiative on marijuana legalization.
3) Past initiative results – Back in 2004 Alaska voters rejected Measure 2, which would have legalized marijuana for adults over 21. It was defeated in a vote of 44.3 percent yes to 55.7 percent no. The size of this previous defeat though is actually good news for future efforts.
By comparison in 2004 only about 34 percent of the country supported marijuana legalization, so that means Alaska was far in front of the country on this issue. Since 2004 support for marijuana legalization has grown by roughly 15 points nationally. Assuming support has grown by a similar rate in Alaska, a marijuana legalization initiative should be able to pass if put on the ballot next year.
For example in 2006 Colorado voters defeated a marijuana legalization initiative by an even larger margin of 41 percent yes to 59 percent no. Than in 2012 Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 by a margin of 55-45. This 14 point improvement in Colorado almost perfectly mirrors the national shift over the same time period.
Photo by The Other Dan released under Creative Commons License