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In several states, voters to decide ‘reefer referendums’

A man attends the first cultivation of cannabis authorized for medicinal purposes in SantiagoA man attends the first cultivation of cannabis authorized for medicinal purposes in Santiago

While many Americans tune in for election coverage Tuesday to see which states turn blue or red, voters in a handful of states will be deciding whether or not their state goes green.

Residents of Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, Floridians will decide whether to make their state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.

At a time when some polls show most Americans favor legalizing marijuana, Tuesday’s vote could help give the marijuana legalization movement more momentum after making huge gains two years ago, when voters turned out to legalize recreational pot in Colorado and Washington.

The recreational markets in those two states swung into gear earlier this year and have thus far shown consistent growth, with Washington collecting roughly $7.2 million in taxes from recreational pot sales since that state’s dispensaries opened their doors in July. Taxes generated from Washington’s sales have not exactly met forecasts, partly due to a supply and demand problem.

Meanwhile, Colorado recreational pot sales, which started at the beginning of 2014, are outpacing sales by the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

Of course, the defeat of some of the marijuana legislation on Tuesday’s ballots could also slow the legalization movement’s momentum while pot prohibitionists ammunition heading into the 2016 elections, when even more states are expected to consider legislation to legalize marijuana.

Here’s a look at the states voting on proposed marijuana legislation tomorrow:

Alaska and Oregon: Both states have ballot measures that, if passed, would set up legal markets for recreational pot sales that would be taxed by the local government — much like Colorado and Washington. Of the two, Oregon is the most likely to pass its ballot measure considering that the state has allowed medical marijuana for 16 years (it did not have a regulated medical marijuana market until this year, however). Still, while some polls show legalization winning easily in Oregon, The Oregonian’s poll has the “yes” vote trailing 46% to 44%. Alaska is expected to be even more of a coin toss, with polls indicating a fairly close vote.

Leslie Bocskor, a Las Vegas-based marijuana entrepreneur who is in the final stages of starting a hedge fund for cannabis industry investments, sees Oregon as the most important of the two states in terms of the legalization movement as well as for potential business opportunities. With its greater population and established regulated medical marijuana market, Oregon would certainly seem like a friendly destination for marijuana industry investors should the legalization effort pass. The measure also has the support of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, who plans to become the first U.S. Senator to vote for legal recreational pot.

If the measure passes, Bocskor sees a range of investment opportunities, including for ancillary businesses like real estate for dispensaries and growing operations as well as security and enterprise software services. “When we do see these states go into adult-use or highly-regulated medical marijuana markets that are business-friendly . . . what we see is that it lifts the entire economy,” Bocskor says.

However, the state’s voters already rejected a recreational pot legalization measure two years ago and there is some concern that voter turnout will be low. If the Oregon vote fails, Bocskor fears that legalization opponents will point to it as evidence that not as many Americans support legal marijuana as some polls suggest. “If Oregon does not pass, I do believe there will be a substantial rallying cry around this for the prohibitionists,” he says.

Florida: Florida is looking to join the other 23 states (as well as D.C.) that already have laws on the books legalizing medical marijuana. The state’s voters are considering a constitutional amendment that requires a 60% approval to pass. Billionaire Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson is vehemently opposed and has committed roughly $5 million to Drug Free Florida.

Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a publicly-traded agricultural company that invests in the marijuana industry, says Florida’s vote is pivotal because of the state’s size – it has the fourth-largest population in the U.S. – and its status as a political swing-state. It’s also important geographically being next door to conservative Southern states. And, while it could still take at least a year for Florida to get a regulated medical marijuana market up and running, the amendment’s passage would represent a major sea change for a state that has historically had some of the country’s strictest marijuana laws.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift for [Florida] to go from where they were to this,” says Peterson, who has donated to groups pushing the constitutional amendment. “That’s going to be why it’s such an important state to see it pass.”

Washington, D.C.: The nation’s capital is the safest bet to approve its ballot initiative tomorrow, with nearly two-thirds of likely voters polled in D.C. last month supporting legalization. Unlike in Alaska and Oregon, D.C.’s proposed law would only legalize possession of recreational marijuana (up to 2 oz.) and allow for individuals to cultivate half a dozen plants. But it does not include a provision to create a regulated market that would result in tax revenues from recreational sales. What’s more, Congress can overturn any local laws in D.C., and some members of Congress have already expressed a desire to kill any pot-friendly laws passed in the District.

Still, a vote to legalize recreational marijuana in the same city that houses the federal government — especially one passed with an overwhelming majority — would, at the very least, be viewed as a symbolic victory for proponents of legalization who have been pushing for federal regulators to downgrade marijuana’s classification as a dangerous Schedule 1 drug.

Looking ahead: Pot legalization supporters say losses at the polls on Tuesday would not destroy the weed legalization movement. But it could slow things down. “I think we all know that, now, Pandora’s Box doesn’t get closed at this point,”Peterson says, adding that the U.S. is very close to having half of its states approving some measure of legalized marijuana.

Bocskor agrees that, whatever happens on Tuesday, 2016 is still the election year to watch. In two years, the U.S. will be in the middle of a presidential election, which generally means a higher voting turnout among young people that favors marijuana legalization. A number of states are expected to hold legalization votes in 2016, including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Nevada and possibly others. Bocskor expects tremendous turnout for those votes, and he doesn’t think a hiccup in the 2014 elections will keep a majority of those states from passing marijuana-friendly laws in two years. “I don’t think that’s going to change no matter what happens this year,” he says.