By: Sam D’Arcangelo HeadCount has partnered with artists and music festivals to register voters for more than 16 years, yet we were blown away by what we saw at Michigan’s Electric Forest Festival in the summer of 2018. Despite taking place ahead of a midterm election, when voter turnout is usually on the low […]
By: Sam D’Arcangelo
HeadCount has partnered with artists and music festivals to register voters for more than 16 years, yet we were blown away by what we saw at Michigan’s Electric Forest Festival in the summer of 2018. Despite taking place ahead of a midterm election, when voter turnout is usually on the low end, the festival was teeming with young people who were eager to get registered for the first time. Our volunteers didn’t have to speculate about what was behind this enthusiasm because so many of these newly registered voters were happy to tell them: cannabis legalization was on the ballot in Michigan, and they couldn’t wait to vote for it that November .
Seeing the way cannabis reform inspired so many young music fans to become young voters wasn’t just exciting for us at HeadCount, it was validating too. A few weeks before the 2018 Electric Forest Festival, our belief in this issue’s unique power to turn out new voters inspired us to launch the Cannabis Voter Project, a campaign that harnesses that power directly. Since then, we’ve been registering, informing, and mobilizing thousands of voters who are interested in moving cannabis policy forward across the United States.
The idea that cannabis reform can get more people out to the polls isn’t some hunch, it’s a phenomenon that has considerable data behind it. In 2014, a national survey of likely voters found 39% of respondents would be “much more likely” to vote if a cannabis legalization measure was on their ballot, with an additional 30% saying they would be “somewhat more likely” to vote under the same circumstances. Colorado and Washington experienced this effect in practice in 2012, when legalization initiatives led to a noticeable increase in youth voter turnout in both states. Considering the latest Gallup poll pegs support for cannabis legalization at 81% among 18 to 29 year olds, it’s no surprise that many young people are more motivated to show up when cannabis policy is on the line.
In addition to getting new people to the polls, cannabis policy offers a great opportunity to demonstrate how voting can bring tangible improvements to people’s lives. In this line of work, you’re often forced to confront the widespread sentiment that voting doesn’t change anything. Yet it’s impossible to look at the trajectory of cannabis reform over the past decade and conclude that voting is inconsequential. Helping people understand how voting has impacted cannabis policy can be an effective way to break through the apathy and turn them into active participants in our democracy.
HeadCount has always been good at connecting with music fans where they are—at concerts and music festivals. With the Cannabis Voter Project, we’re working hard to reach the cannabis community in much the same way. Over the past two years, we’ve partnered with dozens of cannabis retailers and brands to make sure their customers are ready to vote through a combination of in-store activations and online engagement. We also created a website, cannabisvoter.info, that provides detailed breakdowns of what’s going on with cannabis policy in every state. Last month we even texted hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota to make sure they knew cannabis reform was going to be on their ballots.
Depending on how this Election Day goes, more than a third of Americans could soon be living in states where cannabis is legal for all adults. That number is likely to grow in the coming years if people who care about this issue exercise their right to make their voices heard at the ballot box and beyond. After all, the cannabis community is larger than most people realize, and that means the cannabis community has power. We could change a whole lot of things for the better if we use it.
Sam D’Arcangelo is the director of HeadCount’s Cannabis Project and was previously a staff writer at OffBeat Magazine, Relix Magazine, and the Marijuana Policy Project. He currently resides in Austin, TX.