Here’s One Way to Encourage Voting: Free Weed

San Jose marijuana club wants to turn out the vote.

Marijuana leaves. 
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
June 3, 2014, 7:21 a.m.

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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