America is betting huge on marijuana legalization this year, literally

America is betting huge on marijuana legalization this year, literally

VicesSeptember 30, 2016 By Reilly Capps

Bet on it: legal pot is coming to a state near you.

How can you know? Follow the money. Specifically, the wagers.

Online betting markets like PaddyPower and InTrade have, for years, allowed people to bet on current events. Who will win the White House? Who will win an Oscar? Put your money down and find out. 

These markets tend to be crazy accurate when it comes to politics. The InTrade betting market — now shut down for legal reasons — nailed the last two presidential elections, picking Barack Obama in 2008 and, in 2012, correctly predicting Obama or Romney in 49 of the 50 states. When money is on the line, people do their homework, and crowds have wisdom.

This election cycle, the markets are getting more useful for predicting the future. A site called PredictIt is expanding the number of political outcomes you can bet on, including, for the first time, ballot measures.

Ballot measures, of course, are votes by individual states to change laws on everything from public transportation to tax hikes. Colorado loves them; it’s how it legalized weed, and, this cycle, might legalize assisted suicide or raise the minimum wage.

PredictIt lets you bet on 14 different ballot measures, from stricter gun control in California (91 percent likely to pass) to universal health care in Colorado (85 percent likely to fail).

On marijuana, the betting is pretty clear, and it looks extraordinarily good for supporters of legalization — which, at this point, is most Americans.

Nine states, where 80 million people live, are voting on legalizing recreational or medical marijuana in November. Here is what PredictIt predicts:

Recreational:

In California, 90 percent of the money betting on yes.

In Nevada, 85 percent.

In Arizona, 72 percent

In Maine, 72 percent.

Massachusetts, 68 percent.

Those are extremely solid margins for a “yes” vote.

In terms of medical marijuana, in Florida, 87 percent of money is already bet on yes.

Arkansas is the only place the market predicts marijuana will falter. Arkansas is voting on medical marijuana, and 53 percent of the money is betting that the initiative will fail.

There are no betting markets concerning the votes on medical marijuana in North Dakota or Montana. They’re presumably too small to warrant enough interest to be meaningful.

There are many, many other indications that most of these marijuana legalization measures will pass. Conventional polling points toward weed victories — 60 percent of Californians support rec, and 70 of Floridians support med there. Political donations and prominent supporters are lining up in favor, and governments are looking forward to the tax revenue — as much as $1 billion a year in California. Meanwhile the opposition looks weak, with little money and less star power.

How reliable is PredictIt? Hard to say. It’s new and untested. Not much money is on the line. And with something like marijuana, there's a strong possibility of bias: weed lovers who live in a weed bubble bet big money on legalization, while the silent majority that doesn't smoke weed don't bet anything but will vote against legalization in November. 

But this cycle, the PredictIt betting market looks to have a pretty solid grasp of reality. In the presidential race, it gives 71 percent of the money to Hillary Clinton, which is about in line with what the betting market analysis site PredictWise is saying (76 percent chance of a Clinton win), and also with what professional statistical analysts are saying about the presidential race on sites like FiveThirtyEight (66 percent chance of a Clinton win) and The Upshot (74 percent chance of a Clinton win). 

Of course, the presidential election is a giant historical event guided by massive and well-understood forces, and so it’s much easier to predict than something small like a statewide vote on a recreational plant. So these predictions are fallible. Hold off on buying that $10,000 motorized bong — for now.

But if betting markets are anywhere as close to as accurate as they’ve been during past elections, expect to see recreational weed in five more states — maybe yours.