From California, with its counterculture heritage, to the fishing ports and mill towns of Maine, millions of Americans in nine states have a chance to vote Nov. 8 on expanding legal access to marijuana. Collectively, the ballot measures amount to the closest the U.S. has come to a national referendum on the drug.
Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will consider legalizing the recreational use of pot. Three others — Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota — will decide whether to permit marijuana for medical purposes. Montana will weigh whether to ease restrictions on an existing medical marijuana law.
As the most populous state, with a reputation for trend-setting, California is attracting the most attention — and money — in an intensifying debate over Proposition 64.
Silicon Valley tycoons and deep-pocketed donors with connections to the legal medical marijuana industry are among the top financial backers of a pro-pot campaign that has raised almost $17 million. Opponents have raised slightly more than $2 million, including a $1.4 million contribution from retired Pennsylvania art professor Julie Schauer.
Advocates on both sides say passage in California would likely ignite legalization movements in other states, especially when the tax dollars start adding up. California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the state could collect up to $1 billion a year in marijuana taxes.