Put This in Your Pipe and Smoke It

August 2005
As Jeralyn talked about yesterday, supporters of an initiative in Denver to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession are urging people to contact their city council representatives in advance of a hearing on Monday. The Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Act could be on the November ballot in Denver, and while it probably wouldn't do much to change enforcement laws, the symbolism of the vote could possibly effect Referenda C&D. There were big movements in 2004 that spent lots of money trying to increase youth voter turnout (usually categorized by 18-24 year olds), and while come claimed great success, I was always skeptical. The reason is because many of the groups that claimed to have increased youth voter turnout spent much of their time registering new voters. The fact that many young people weren't even registered to vote was a problem, certainly, but the bigger problem in Colorado has always been that even if they are registered, they don't vote. In Jefferson County, for example, there were tens of thousands of registered voters between 18-24 in 2002, but less than five percent of them actually casted a vote. So while increasing the number of registered voters does increase youth voter turnout, I'm not sure how much effect was had on those who were already registered. The point of that diatribe is this: the marijuana ballot initiative could turn out more young voters in Denver in an off-election year than we have seen in a long time. If you really want to increase youth voter turnout, you need to touch on issues that that age group cares about. This has long been a catch-22 for young people; they say they don't vote because politicians don't talk about issues that are important to them, but politicians don't talk about issues that are important to them because they don't vote. Politicians rightly say, "If they aren't going to hold you accountable, why bother talking to them?" But if you can find an issue, like decriminalizing marijuana, that young people might find interesting, you just might convince them to turn out in November. It is generally assumed that most young voters would trend towards liberal issues at the ballot box, so if this initiative increases turnout this November, it might also mean more votes for Referenda C&D.