Out of the Basement: Come Out and Smoke the Vote




My family just went to vote. It was an altogether underwhelming affair. So much so, in fact, that my six-year-old looked at me and said, “This is it? We came here for this?” My polling place is conveniently located at the fire station across the street and down the block; it’s not as if we had to go far. Still, she did not find it sufficiently worth her while, and it appeared that others agreed. Two couples on the way were wearing their ‘I Voted’ stickers, but otherwise the street was quiet. It took us a moment to locate the polling entrance because it was so empty. We were home in less than 15 minutes: there were no lines; only one booth was occupied. Aside from the gubernatorial race, there was not much of significance on the ballot, and, in a state that’s seen just one republican governor in my lifetime, that looks to be fairly predictable as well.


But you go and you vote, nonetheless. Because you can, and that’s not something any of us should take for granted.


When you’re young it’s all about the presidential election. You’re excited that you have a hand in picking the most powerful man (grrr….) in the world. It’s like how children think movie stars are superheroes. These are the people who loom larger than life.


I remember the first time I voted in a presidential election, the first time I was old enough. Because I lived in a solidly blue state, I voted for Ralph Nader but was of course hoping for Gore. In 2004, I cried when I learned on NPR that Kerry had conceded defeat. The close races, the intrigue. Then, of course, Yes We Can and Change and feeling apart of something big, something historic, in 2008. Voters turned out in record numbers. It was all very dramatic.


As you get older, though, you start to realize it’s less about the candidates and more about the issues, less about the drama and more about what’s really at stake. Which makes voting in midterm elections all the more important.


When I lived in Vermont I marveled at how politically involved and aware most people were, likely due to how empowered they felt to affect change locally. Vermont still has Town Meeting Day in the late winter, when communities come together to debate, to build consensus, and to vote. Despite such examples, we don’t have much in the way of direct democracy in the U.S. National lawmaking responsibilities lie with Congress, with the folks we elect to represent us, and, though 24 state governments and D.C. have an initiative process, the U.S. Constitution prevents divestment of legislative powers from this branch.


In most cases, voters don’t have the ability to change laws. We elect officials and hope that they will serve their constituents fairly and reasonably. Ballot measures are our chance to have a say, to decide issues that are relevant to our lives, and to participate as closely as we possibly can in direct democracy, the will of the people. These state level initiatives are how the cannabis supporters are radically altering the landscape of both medical and recreational marijuana nationwide.


This year’s Marijuana Midterm has been called a “warm-up” for 2016, when the marijuana lobby is planning a massive push in at least six states, including California, which is a likely bellwether for national cannabis law reform. This is a typical tactic: big issues are saved for the years with presidential elections because more people go to the polls, and money is better spent. Today’s results might be predictive of trends for 2016, but if the measures fail, it’s just as likely due to smaller turnout of young voters as it is due to strong opposition. And the cannabis community trusts that young people will vote in 2016.


So, while it would be a giant step forward if legalization passes in Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. and an optimistic development if Amendment 2 for medical marijuana passes in Florida, it’s not going to be a terrible disappointment to the national effort if they don’t. Ethan Nadelman, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance told NBC News that any defeat today wouldn’t alter the strategy or the plan for 2016.


But, if every young person who believes in progressive politics votes, if every cannabis user who believes in their freedom to decide what they put in their bodies votes, if every compassionate citizen who believes in access to safe medicine votes, then 2014 will be a year to celebrate. It would prove the strength of the movement and establish cannabis as a major part of the conversation in the 2016 election. It could be the tipping point for our cause. The prohibitionists are trusting we’ll stay inside, but it’s time to come out of the basement and VOTE.


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