If 2012 was cannabis legalization's breakthrough election, 2016 may prove to be the movement's tipping point. If all five adult-use ballot measures pass in 2016, a total of 76 million people -- nearly one-quarter of the US population -- will live in states with legal, regulated adult-use cannabis. On the medical side, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota would add 24 million residents to the roughly 160 million Americans already living in 25 states with legal medical cannabis. In 2016, the fate of legalization rests on whether younger voters show up: The generation gap is so great, in fact, that it will make the difference between winning and losing in most states.
As Election Day looms, supporters and opponents of medical and adult-use cannabis are throwing everything that remains of their energy and budgets into getting their messages in front of potential voters. "Think of the children!" seems to be the rallying cry. Legalization opponents are bombing the airwaves with variations on the child-danger theme: A child recoils from a cloud of smoke; a sad, woeful child's eyes gaze at the camera from a hospital bed; and a frantic mother pulls her child away from an adult-use cannabis shop decked out with smiling marijuana leaves. Legalization proponents are also harnessing the power of a mother's love by showing the compassionate side of medical cannabis, as well as the power of regulation to ensure the safety of youth in society.