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Could Legalization Here Spur Other States?

When it comes to talk of marijuana legalization in California, the focus, understandably, is on California. It would be unrealistic to expect the state’s voters to care much about reform in other parts of the country.

Sean Parker California
Sean Parker

But it’s an important question. If the Golden State goes legal, what happens elsewhere? Would a vote to flip here lead the rest of the country to flip and go legal too?

Answers to such questions are uncertain at best, but there is good reason to think a victory in this state could have massive impacts on others. As goes California, so goes the nation; that’s the idea, anyway.

November vote looking increasingly likely

There’s no guarantee voters will get a chance to legalize in the November election, but it looks more likely by the day. A group of activists headed by Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, has brought in more than $2 million to pay for efforts to get a pro-pot initiative on the ballot.

There are competing proposals that could scuttle chances for full reform in the fall. And it’s always possible Parker’s group will run into insurmountable obstacles before the election. But these are relatively unlikely outcomes, especially since Parker and his fellow advocates have earned the endorsements of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the local NAACP, and large national lobbying organizations such as NORML.

What’s more, public support for legalization is sky high, hitting 60 percent in a recent statewide poll. So all things considered, it looks like reform will be a success at the polls.

But what would that mean for the rest of the United States?

California marijuanaWell, for one thing, California is the most populous state in the country. That alone should have a huge impact on the viability of legal cannabis across the United States. Once a state this big goes green, reform is only likely to spread – fast.

Implications for neighboring states

Victory could affect legalization plans in some of the state’s next door neighbors. Oregon already allows legal marijuana, but Nevada and Arizona don’t – and could act soon. The question is already on the ballot in Nevada, so success in California wouldn’t mean much to that state unless Nevadans reject the idea in November.

But Arizona is not so close. Efforts are underway to legalize there, too, but the state is much more conservative than either California or Nevada, making it a longer bet. But if legalization doesn’t pass, odds are good it will return in the next election. And if neighboring California has already crossed that line, it would be hard for Arizona to turn back.

Other states, especially on the East Coast, could also vote to legalize this year. New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine all could move forward on the issue. But for those that take longer, legalization in California could make all the difference.

Once the Golden State adopts cannabis reform, it would be more difficult for New York and similarly big states to reject legalization. The ball will be rolling downhill, and these places stand in its path.

But the biggest effect could come in the Upper Midwest. At least three states there – Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan – stand a good chance of legalizing in coming years. But they’re on the fence right now, and a win in California could knock them off it.

Local voters don’t need to worry about all this, of course. There’s only one election they will vote in, and it’s right here at home. But it’s worth asking what effect a yes vote here would have on everyone else. The answer is that it would probably be a good one.

What effect do you think legalization in California would have on the rest of the United States? Post a comment below.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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