It shouldn’t take Einstein to explain that 2022 has been a challenging year for the cannabis industry. Yet, Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In the wake of the 2022 midterm elections, the cannabis community has woken up to that familiar feeling of not great results after running the same old tired political playbook this election cycle.
The reality of ceding marijuana legalization initiatives to traditional partisan political operatives who are running the same old playbook for winning these initiatives is not only insanity, but also a losing strategy for the larger industry. Victories in Maryland and Missouri are welcome news and will lead to the opening of new regulated markets for an industry that is struggling through growing pains. But, as in other areas of cannabis consumer outreach and education, the 2022 election will go down in history as a missed opportunity.
In short: failing to recognize that, to win a ballot initiative in less than favorable political environments like Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, you must appeal to, organize, and mobilize voters who aren’t breaking down your door to get legal cannabis, but could be convinced, cost the industry millions of dollars.
Looking at the map of states where cannabis is legal for recreational use, the vast majority of the states would be traditionally viewed as “dark blue” Democratic states. Furthermore, most of these states made cannabis legal for recreational use during momentous, high-stakes, federal elections. The strategy that has been employed in each case is to tie cannabis legalization to highly Democratic states in historically high turnout elections and depend on Democratic voters to do the lion’s share of the work of passing the ballot initiative. After seeing the results from 2022, this obviously isn’t a scalable solution.
There are paths to victory on cannabis ballot initiatives without relying on the lazy tactic of using partisan breakdown of the electorate. The proof point for this is the fact that the side in favor of legalization in every state that had a marijuana initiative in 2022, even if the initiative lost, garnered more actual votes than every Democratic candidate that ran for statewide office. Legalization proved itself to be one of the rare ticket-splitting issues that drew voters who were choosing Republicans for statewide office at the top of the ticket and a “yes” vote for legalization down ballot.
Had the legalization campaign not been completely focused on Democrats and missed a wide swath of gettable voters who might have also crossed party lines to vote for legalization, the initiatives may not have failed in 60% of the states with initiatives this cycle. Repeating the same playbook that assumes the only supporters are Democrats and therefore the only campaign worth running is a turnout effort is insanity and a setup for failure in most “red” states. The larger problem now is that the country remains as divided as ever politically and, Florida, the largest cannabis market up for debate in 2024, trended “red” and will be ground zero for both the Republican Presidential Primary and United States Presidential election for the next two years. The industry needs to stop the insanity if they want to have a real shot at winning and opening this critical new market.
As we wait for election administrators to release vote history data in the months to come, we’re looking forward to analyzing the individual characteristics of cannabis ballot supporters. These insights will further help us improve our predictive models of cannabis initiative supporters and show how bipartisan this coalition truly is. Keep an eye on this space – we’ve got more to come.