This April 20th will have a real impact on the future of marijuana legalization in the United States, and it has nothing to do with the pro-pot celebration taking place that day.
At issue is the Alaska marijuana legalization initiative. Currently it is set to appear on the primary ballot this August 19th, but under Alaska law if the state legislative session doesn’t conclude 120 days before the primary date the initiatives must be moved back to the November general election ballot.
The cutoff is the scheduled end of this current session on Sunday, which just happens to be 4/20. At the moment it looks like the legislature may not finish by 4/20. If they end up going into extended session the vote on the legalization initiative will be delayed until November.
On the positive side, having the initiative moved to the November ballot should potentially help it do slightly better, which could theoretically make a difference since the polling shows the issue is fairly close. Recent polling found 52 percent support the measure while 44 percent oppose it. Young voters tend to make up a greater percentage of the general election turnout and they overwhelmingly back legalization.
From a national messaging perspective, though, having the initiative bumped off the August ballot would be slightly disappointing. An August victory would likely receive much more national coverage. It would have been one of the only big anticipated national political stories that month, compared to November when it could be buried by senate and gubernatorial election results.
Spreading out the initiative might also create a greater sense of momentum among the public. In addition having the measure on the August ballot would be a unique opportunity to test legalization’s ability to drive youth turnout. That could be a helpful piece of data for convincing politicians that supporting marijuana reform is a smart political move.
Whether it ends up on the August ballot or the November ballot Alaska will likely legalize marijuana in the near future.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy. The ebook is on sale for $1.99 this week.