Date
11 December 2016
Supporters of legalization of the recreational use of marijuana cite the elimination of the black market and higher tax revenue among the benefits. Photo: Reuters
Supporters of legalization of the recreational use of marijuana cite the elimination of the black market and higher tax revenue among the benefits. Photo: Reuters

How marijuana legalization became a political issue in Nevada

In the recent US presidential and congressional elections, voters across the country were asked not only to choose the next president and lawmakers in both Congress and state legislatures but also to decide on more than 150 local issues.

Among them, the referenda in the state of California, Nevada and Massachusetts on whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana were the focus of media attention.

The legalization of marijuana for either medical or recreational use has been a highly sensitive and divisive issue in the US since many conservatives see it as not only a legal issue but also a moral as well as law and order issue.

Take the Nevada referendum for example. The state legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2000. And 16 years later, its the citizens were once again asked whether they were for or against the recreational use of pot.

Among the major supporters for legalization of the recreational use of marijuana were the Democrats in Nevada, who argued that decriminalizing the recreational use of pot can eliminate the black market for soft drugs, increase tax revenue for the state government, facilitate tourism and halt the unfair treatment of non-violent marijuana users by law enforcement.

However, those who opposed the further legalization of marijuana, most of whom were Republicans, argued that decriminalizing the recreational use of pot would do more harm than good to society, as it may ruin the health of teenagers and undermine public vigilance against the scourge of soft drugs.

Besides, legalization of pot would only benefit dealers rather than the general public.

However, no matter how hard the Republicans pitched the downside of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, most of the people in Nevada were still in favor of legalization.

As a result, 54.47 percent of voters in Nevada voted “yes” to decriminalizing the recreational use of pot in the recent referendum.

The Democrats’ support for legalizing marijuana was largely politically motivated.

Those who smoke pot are mainly ethnic minorities and young people who are not very eager to vote but who were the major demographic group that Hillary Clinton was targeting.

Therefore, by generating hype around the issue of legalizing marijuana and asking voters to decide on it, the Democrats hoped that it could rally the ethnic minorities and young people in Nevada and boost their turnout, thereby increasing Hillary Clinton’s chances of carrying that state.

The strategy seemed to have worked, as Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in that swing state, even though she lost the election.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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