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Here's One Way to Encourage Voting: Free Weed Here's One Way to Encourage Voting: Free Weed

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Politics

Here's One Way to Encourage Voting: Free Weed

San Jose marijuana club wants to turn out the vote.

(iStock)

photo of Elahe Izadi
June 3, 2014

The privilege of participating in a free, democratic election should be reason enough to vote for most Americans. Getting free burritos or coffee for sporting "I Voted" stickers sweetens the deal. But San Jose is one-upping all of that with the promise of weed for voters in Tuesday's primary elections.

Top that, Starbucks.

The marijuana, for card-carrying medical marijuana users only, comes courtesy of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition as part of its "Weed for Votes" campaign. Just show up at participating cannabis clubs with an "I Voted" sticker or ballot stub to qualify for discounted or free marijuana.

 

SVCC wants to encourage voters to get out and cast votes for "cannabis-friendly" candidates running for city office, such as council members and the mayor. The sheriff and state's attorney are also on the ballot, and the group's voter guide makes it clear who they want in office.

No marijuana-specific measure appears on the ballot, but pro-cannabis activists want to mobilize their base to back candidates who they feel take "reasonable" approaches to marijuana policy. The city is in the middle of considering increasing regulations on medical marijuana.

"We have a huge opportunity to make a large impact in who runs San Jose," SVCC director John Lee said in a statement. "Although we may not have regulations on the June ballot, insuring the right politicians are elected is even more important."

The political impact of playing up marijuana is something Democrats have been eyeing as a way to help them in a midterm cycle, when they typically struggle to get their base out to vote. Some polling suggests that marijuana ballot initiatives will help boost turnout, particularly among younger voters. Take Colorado or Washington, where turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds spiked in 2012 when pot-legalization appeared on the ballot. But that didn't happen in California; youth turnout as a share of the electorate actually dropped in 2010, when a marijuana legalization measure appeared on the ballot.

But is San Jose's pot giveaway even legal? Well, the marijuana is only for those who already have medical marijuana cards. And the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office has said in a statement that the offer on its face doesn't appear to violate California's vote-buying law, which bans trying to influence voters with the promise of things like free money, gifts, and employment. But, depending on how the offer plays out, it could still violate state or even federal law, especially since there are federal candidates on the ballot.

The number of small and large businesses and corporations who offer freebies to voters on Election Day has boomed in recent presidential cycles. Those giveaways do appear to violate federal election law.

One easy way to avoid getting into legal troubles is to give the free stuff to all people, regardless of whether they voted. Although just giving away pot to everybody who has a medical-marijuana card in San Jose would surely pose plenty of problems of its own. Like, supply-and-demand-type problems.

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