In November’s election, Colorado voters, including a solid majority of Latino voters, approved an amendment to possess and buy small amounts of marijuana, a credit to the amendment’s targeted campaign. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Why Latinos helped pass a marijuana law in Colorado

The conventional wisdom might be that voters who support legalizing the sale and use of small amounts of marijuana are either very liberal, patients who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, or young stoners.  Yet the broad coalition of Colorado voters who said ‘yes’ to Amendment 64, which made Colorado one of two states to legalize marijuana use, included 70 percent of the state’s Latino voters, according to exit polls.  As reported in the Denver Post and The Atlantic, Latinos had not supported these laws in the past.  In fact, as recently as October, according to The Atlantic, Colorado polls showed the majority of Latinos were against the law, which allows for adults over 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from specially designated stores.  So what happened?  Chalk it up to a well-run, specifically targeted campaign.

In the online ad seen on YouTube, “Latino Voices for Amendment 64,”  a Latina community organizer, a Latino radio talk show host and a young Latino law student ask themselves on video, in both English and Spanish, “what if there was something they could do,” to get criminals off the streets, raise money for schools, and keep their children safer.  The way to do it, they say, is through Amendment 64, and they proceed to say it would raise 40 million  dollars for Colorado schools “and take marijuana off the streets.”

Apart from the online ad, Latino supporters of Amendment 64 spoke on Spanish-language radio stations and did other community outreach. Colorado’s biggest Latino organization, Colorado Latino Forum, as well as other grassroots and community activists, supported the measure, in large part because Amendment 64’s main advocates, Mason Tverte and Brian Vicente, reached out to the state’s Latinos.

While her group did not publicly endorse Amendment 64,  Campaign for a Strong Colorado‘s communications director, Alvina Vazquez, says the measure’s proponents did an effective job of connecting with Latino voters’ daily lives.

“They spoke about things Latinos see in their neighborhoods and in their families,” explains Vazquez, “such as the fact there are more Latinos in the criminal justice system for low-level misdemeanors [like possession of small amounts of drugs under current laws] and the fact that current laws impact Latinos more,” Vazquez says. “Their values messaging stressed the impact on the Latino community,” she adds.

While a regularly-heard comment is that Latinos are conservative voters, only 14 percent of Latinos said they would vote for a candidate based on moral rather than economic issues, according to a Latino Decisions poll.

The Colorado vote does not mean Latinos on a national level support legalizing marijuana, says Latino Decisions political scientist Matt Barreto, but it does point to a well-run, state-specific campaign.

“Usually initiatives do a bad job of reaching specific voters,” says Barreto, whereas in this case, the messaging to Latinos was effective, and there was not a strong opposition campaign to their message, he adds.

Campaign for a Strong Colorado’s Alvina Vazquez states, “I think it is a misconception to think Latinos are in a box; Latinos vote on what is happening in their lives right now and they want solutions for what is happening today.”

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