Marijuana News Roundup: Do Voters Care More About Pot or Guns?

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We’ve been keeping pretty close track of the ballot initiatives in nine U.S. states that will decide whether residents will have access to medical or recreational marijuana. Five states — California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Nevada, Maine — will vote next week on making recreational use legal in the state, and four states — Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana — will be deciding on medical marijuana use. The latest polling shows support growing in California, the big prize for recreational-use advocates, and dropping in Massachusetts.

And while these are the issues getting the most ink and pixels, four states are considering different levels of firearms control: California, Nevada, Maine and Washington all have measures on the ballot. In August, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that a federal ban on gun sales to medical marijuana card holders does not violate the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In California, Proposition 63 would prohibit possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and require certain individuals to pass a background check in order to purchase ammunition. To date, supporters of the measure have raised $4.5 million while opponents have raised about $870,000. The largest donor to the opposition campaign is the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has contributed $95,000 according to Ballotpedia. In two polls taken two weeks ago, 63% and 72% of respondents support Prop 63 while 27% and 20% oppose it.

Nevada voters get an opportunity to decide on Question 1, which requires firearm transfers to go through a licensed dealer. Certain transfers, including temporary transfers and those between immediate family members, would be exempt. Through October 19, supporters have raised more than $18 million, while opponents have raised nearly $5 million. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has contributed $12.77 million in support of Question 1. On the other side, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action has contributed $4.86 million and the NRA has contributed nearly $87,500 to oppose the measure. In two polls completed last week, 54% and 59% of respondents support the measure while 38% and 34% oppose it.

In Maine, Question 3 requires background checks before a gun sale or transfer between people who are not licensed firearm dealers. Supporters had raised about $4.35 million as of September 30, compared to $483,000 raised by opponents. A group funded by Michael Bloomberg, Everytown for Gun Safety, has contributed $3.68 million to support Question 3, while the NRA Institute for Legislative Action has contributed $420,000 to oppose the measure. The latest poll, taken in the third week of September, has 61% of respondents supporting Question 3 and 33% opposing it.

Washington residents will vote on Initiative 1491, which authorizes courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove an individual’s ownership or access to firearms. As of October 20, supporters had raised nearly $4 million, while opponents had raised nothing. Leading donors are Nicholas Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist, and Everytown for Gun Safety. In a poll last week, some 67% of respondents support the initiative and 18% oppose it.

There might be a couple of surprises here. First, the firearms control side is leading in all four states and by wide margins. Second, the NRA has spent relatively little to combat the measures. That could indicate the group does not see any of the measures as a major threat or that it’s saving its money to challenge the laws (if passed) in court where it probably believes it has a better chance to get more bang for its buck.

In other Election Day-related news, we have noted before that pharmaceutical maker Insys Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: INSY) contributed $500,000 to Arizona’s anti-legalization drive. The company manufactures Subsys, a prescription painkiller derived from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

According to a new study released Monday by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), there has been considerable progress is fighting opioid addiction and death in states that have legalized access to cannabis in some form. In its announcement of the study the NCIA noted:

  • A decade-long survey showed that medical cannabis states had 25% fewer opioid deaths over that period than other states.
  • Medical cannabis states report a 28-35% reduction in opioid addiction treatment admissions.
  • The average doctor in a medical cannabis state prescribes 1,826 fewer prescription painkiller doses per year than doctors in non-cannabis states.
  • State medical cannabis programs were responsible for $165.2 million in Medicare prescription savings in 2013 and $178.5 million in Medicaid prescription savings in 2014.

The full report is available at no cost from the NCIA website.