Free Pot for Votes in San Jose, Calif.? Is This Legal?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Medical marijuana is once again a burning issue in many local and state races across the country.

But marijuana activists in San Jose, California, are taking a novel approach to sparking pro-pot voters to get to the polls: Some medical-pot clubs are offering free or discounted weed to patients who can prove that they voted in the upcoming primary election.

Is this so-called "pot for votes" campaign legal? And are the group's high political hopes destined to go up in smoke?

A Doobie for Doing Your Civic Duty?

As reported by KPIX-TV, the group of San Jose-area cannabis clubs called the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition (SVCC) is trying to counteract an expected low turnout for the June 3 primary election by offering discounted or free marijuana to club members who wear their "I Voted" sticker or bring in a ballot stub the day of the election.

According to the group's press release, "Activists hope to show local politicians that their supporters can impact elections and that politicians need to take their concerns seriously."

But some critics are questioning whether it's even legal to offer pot as a perk for voting.

The California Election Code states that a person shall not give someone a gift or other compensation in exchange for either not voting, or voting for a particular candidate. But since the SVCC isn't hinging its weed promotion on whether or not someone votes for a particular candidate, and isn't telling people not to vote at all, it's probably safe under California law.

However, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told website San Jose Inside that, with federal contests on the June 3 ballot as well, the group's weed-for-votes plan may technically violate federal election law. Specifically, Rosen cites 18 USC 597, which prohibits making an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote.

Whether the weed group's joint effort to get medical marijuana fans out to the polls pays off or gets nipped in the bud, it has certainly lit up the interests on both sides of the medical marijuana debate.

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