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Seven States That Are Next In Line To Legalize Marijuana

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Legalize Marijuana legalization cannabis prohibition tea partyBy Phillip Smith

During a series of YouTube interviews Thursday, President Obama demonstrated a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana legalization experiments in the states. And he signaled strongly that the Obama administration wouldn’t be taking to the hustings to try to beat back legalization efforts, as previous administrations had been wont to do.

“What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana,” the president said in response to a question from YouTube host Hank Green. “The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we’re not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you’re gonna see other states start looking at this.”

Indeed. Legalization bills are already popping up in state legislatures around the country, and while it’s unlikely — though not impossible — that any of them will pass this year, 2016 looks to be the breakout year for freeing the weed. One state is going to be the first to legalize it through the legislature, and next year seems reasonable. And the presidential election year is also likely to see successful legalization initiatives in several more.

Currently four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — and the District of Columbia have ended pot prohibition. But that’s only about 18 million people. By the time they quit counting the votes on Election Day 2016, that number is likely to triple, and then some.

So, where’s it going to happen? Here’s where:

California

That California is the only state on the West Coast to not yet have legalized pot is an embarrassment to Golden State activists. They were first with medical marijuana in 1996, and they tried to be first to legalize it with Prop 19 in 2010, but came up short, garnering 46% of the vote on Election Day despite leading in the polls up until the final weeks. In 2012, with the big players sitting on their cash stashes, none of the competing initiative efforts even managed to make the ballot.

It will be different in 2016. The actors with deep pockets are all ready to get involved next year, the polling is good (if not great, hovering in the mid-50s), and the state’s disparate and fractious cannabis community is already working to forge a unified front behind a community-vetted initiative. The main vehicle for activists is the California Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform, which has already started holding meetings statewide to try to a unified marijuana reform community.

With 38 million people, California is the big prize. It’s also an expensive place to run an initiative, with the cost of getting on the ballot alone at around a million dollars. And it’ll take several million more to pay for advertising in the key final weeks of the campaign. But the money is lining up, it’ll take fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot (thanks to the dismal turnout in last year’s midterms), and once it qualifies, it will have momentum from (by then) four years of legalization in Colorado and Washington and two years of it in Alaska and Oregon. California will go green in 2016.

Nevada

Nevada is the state that is actually furthest down the path towards legalizing it next year. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has already qualified a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Under Nevada law, the legislature now has a chance to approve the initiative. If it does so, it would become law; if it rejects it or fails to act on it, it then goes to the voters on Election Day 2016.

Nevadans approved medical marijuana in 1998 (59%) and again in 2000 (65%), but voted down decriminalization in 2002 (39%) and legalization in 2006 (44%). But it has since then effectively decriminalized possession of less than ounce, and it’s now been a decade since that last legalization initiative loss at the polls. Either marijuana will be legal by Election Day 2016 thanks to the legislature or the voters will decide the question themselves at the polls.

Arizona

In Arizona, possession of any amount of pot is still a felony, but polling in the last couple of years shows support for legalization either hovering around 50% or above it. Those aren’t the most encouraging polling numbers — the conventional wisdom is that initiatives want to start out at 60% support or better — but a serious effort is underway there to put the issue before the voters in 2016.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is teaming with Safer Arizona and other state activist groups for the 2016 initiative campaign and has formed a ballot committee to begin laying the groundwork for a Colorado-style initiative.

The initiative language is not a done deal, and there are some signs that local activists aren’t completely happy with MPP’s proposed language, but that’s why there are consultations going on.

Maine

The Marijuana Policy Project has been laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016 with local initiative campaigns in some of the state’s largest cities in 2014 and 2013 and is working on final initiative language now. But it is also seeing competition from a state-based group, Legalize Maine, that says it is crafting its own initiative and is criticizing both MPP and Maine politicians for advancing “out of state corporate interests” at the expense of Mainers.

Whether MPP and Legalize Maine can get together behind a single initiative remains to be seen. If they can, good; if they can’t, well, Maine is a small and relatively inexpensive state in which to run a signature-gathering campaign. There could be not one, but two legalization initiatives in Maine next year.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Diane Russell has filed a legalization bill in the legislature this year. Maine is one of the states where the looming presence of legalization initiatives could actually move the legislature to act preemptively to craft a legalization scheme to its own liking.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is another. As in Maine, but to a much greater degree, Bay State activists have been laying the groundwork for legalization for years. Groups such as MassCann/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have run a series of marijuana reform “public policy questions” in various state electoral districts each election cycle since 2000 — and they have never lost! The questions are non-binding, but they’re a clear indicator to state legislators where voter sentiment lies.

The state has also seen successful decriminalization and medical marijuana initiatives, in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In both cases, the initiatives were approved with 63% of the vote. And again as in Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project is organizing an initiative, but local activists with similar complaints to those in Maine are threatening to run their own initiative. Organized as Bay State Repeal, which includes some veteran Massachusetts activists, the group says it wants the least restrictive legalization law possible. Whether the two efforts can reach a common understanding remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the issue could move in the legislature in the next two years. New Republican Gov. Charlie Baker says he’s opposed to legalization, but is praising Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s decision to appoint a special Senate committee to examine issues around legalization. Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) isn’t waiting. He’s filed a legalization bill, and while previous such bills have languished in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, incoming committee head Sen. Will Brownberger (D-Boston) has said he will give it a hearing. Something could happen this year, although it’s more likely next year, and the voters doing it themselves on Election Day 2016 is more likely yet.

Vermont

Vermont could be the best bet for a state to legalize it this year and for the first state to legalize it through the legislative process. There is no initiative process in the state, so that’s the only way it’s going to happen. And the state has already proceeded well down that path.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has endorsed legalization in principle — the devil is the details — and the legislature last year approved a RAND study on the impacts of legalization, which was just released earlier this month. That study estimated that freeing the weed could bring the state $20 to $70 million in annual pot tax revenues.

Other state officials have expressed openness to the idea, and a May 2014 poll found 57% support for legalization. There’s not a bill in the hopper yet this year, but one could move quickly in this state where a lot of the legislative groundwork has already been laid.

The Marijuana Policy Project has formed the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana to help push the process along. Stay tuned; this is one to watch.

Missouri

And there’s a dark horse in the heartland. The Missouri activist group Show Me Cannabis has been running an impressive educational campaign about marijuana legalization for the past few years. The group tried to get an initiative on the ballot last year, but came up short.

They’ve already filed paperwork for 2016 for a constitutional amendment to make it legal to grow, sell, and use marijuana for people 21 and over.

One reason Show Me Cannabis came up short in 2014 was the lack of support from major players outside the state. Given the lack of polls showing strong support for legalization, the big players remain sitting on their wallets, but that could change if good poll numbers emerge. And there’s still plenty of time to make the 2016 ballot.

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  • smokeymountainrain

    Btw, I do not use marijuana because it is illegal in north carolina, but I would if it was medically legal, I fully support my mothers decision to smoke as an alternative to other meds and she will live longer bc of it. I am a christian, so I would not use it recreationally, but I think it should be up to an adult to decide if they want to smoke on occasion, its less dangerous than drinking, and they should not be arrested for such a petty thing. God gives us our own free will to decide how to live our lives, and America should be the same way as far as the courts are concerned

  • smokeymountainrain

    Look at all the opiods killing people, but most states still reject a marijuana alternative siting draconian principals. Its incompasionate to keep denying sick people an alternative to the poisons prescribed to them everyday. These big pharm companies are behind the only research that opposes medical marijuana, just follow the mone. Legalizing medical marijuana puts less pain pills on the streets and in the hands of kids who later end up on heroin. Why is oxycotin legal, but a cancer patient with a joint in North Carolina will go to jail? It doesnt make sense to not have an alternative to all the addictive killer pills on the market, if we stand together for medical in this type of way, then broader legalization will have a better chance, if we get the federal law changed in the name of compassion and opposistion of harmful opiates, more legalization will be in reach and alot easier step to make

  • smokeymountainrain

    If everyone would join together for medical, it would pass faster than recreational and we all know thats the first step to total legalization. Me, my wife, and my mother qualify for medical in the states that have it, but here in NC, we have to suffer, or be addicted to destructive pills that kill people. My mother has degenerative disc desease, ptsd, athritis, bi-polar disorder and exzema, she could live 20 years longer if she didnt have to take all the harmful pills that are her only legal option for her ailments, this year she thought it would pass (but it did not) stopped taking 6 pills replacing them with marijuana and she is in alot better health and stays in a better mood, but may lose one or two of her doctors or go to jail just for wanting relief and a longer life, we need to work together to save lives like her who are suffering, we need to come out of the dark ages and care for our sick and give them a safe alternative to deadly and harmful pills that end up on the streets and in the hands of our kids

  • W, Hawk

    All you people that want to legalize this crap what concerns do you have for the people that don’t want to smell it. I live in California and have everyone around me growing it. I am sick and tired of smelling that plant and these people don’t care one bit that I have to put up with the stench. It smells like a herd of skunks have invaded your property. People that smoke it and the ones who grow it have no consideration for those that don’t.

  • Ronald Harjers

    The voters of our great country need to stand together. Marijuana will be legal and prohibition will end on a federal level .we voters just need to stand together,vote together and get it done. You politicians who are against marijuana will see your careers end soon .

  • Michael Hunter

    Why isn’t Florida on the list as we got close last year?

  • Whyiowa4medical

    I very much agree with being able to grow one’s own!!! In Ag states that could be a dangerous proposition ; outdoors. I am beginning to see the reason Ag states are making it difficult to grow ones own except those who are able to filter Ag drift out at the micron level. So, they either open all the floodgates and legalize, or they keep a very tight grip on who grows and where they are able to grow. I apologize for boring everyone with my discovery, before I peep about it again I will send some landrace (which a certain .2%THC sativa has become in Iowa) hemp in for testing. We are so illegal here people could honestly sell hemp, as some of the last active growers were just busted we have to wait on vacationers and consider ourselves lucky to score a gram. Iowa is losing it’s appeal, if it ever had any, except hard workers. No out of state enterprise should ever discount an Iowa grower, we have tended to an entire state’s needs. We had working collectives before it was a glimmer in the eye of a Californian. We all knew each other from southeast to northwest and all points North and South. Guess who’s left? A few dumb kids with a plant hidden somewhere and they will be in jail soon enough for burning down the house and skills on par with me when I was 16!!! In other words, crap!!!

  • Daniel Jackson

    Eureka Springs needs to become independent.

  • sourpatchkid

    Well don’t read it then….its how I spell n how I write on the blog…..

  • Nancy Garrett

    Hello Fellow Smokers

    Come help legalize Marijuana in Maryland. Join other supporters in Annapolis.

    Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland Lobby Night
    Monday, February 2 at 5 p.m.
    House Office Building, Room 170
    6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD

    for more info: https://ms.clicks.actions.aclu.org/t/cffbS6H4SeQALElDS3fIWjaNN7G3SF~aaaaIWjNN7?p=6%40w82-2&j=bwVsYrV8Y_mjyhfdq.Xth&jZ=lmfiihfyi_ctorVng.hjr&g=Gy1&s=&w=%23

  • Tha Jonster

    w r agree bt ur spelng n gramr mak it hrd to rd whut ur sayin.

  • sourpatchkid

    I understand that but what I’m tryna say is even activists can’t come to agree on one thing, one group wants it this way n a different one wants it another n I feel like if one fails maybe they should jus join the other u know “if ya can’t beat em join em” it mite make it more successful n more likely for things to progress further than what they have so far n I’m specifically talkn bout Ohio on this bcuz its recently what I’ve read bout n there r 2 different groups tryna somewhat do the same thing but both r different n the same sense if that’s makes ne since one wants jus 10 farmers to b aloud to grow among other things n from what I’ve read not a lot of ppl r on board wit that which really neither am I cuz u wouldn’t b aloud to grow ur own n the other group wants it to where u can grow ur own as long as ur 21 n up….ud have to read up bout the groups n their different proposals but I like the idea of bn able to grow ur own as oppose to the other one n others seem to agree as well…..n I agree they try n separate it but its all pretty much the same ppl that get it medical use it recreationally n vice versa either way we r the ones that should b able to choose whether or not we want to or not jus like we do wit everything else n life

  • Tha Jonster

    PA I feel your pain, I hate these conservative states. Texas is built on a foundation of making money by enslaving and arresting poor people and that is largely what the war on Weed is all about.

  • Tha Jonster

    Hard for groups to pull together simply because the “system” doesn’t work that way. If you want to change or make a law you need to propose something specific and send it through the system. I agree 100% with the idea of pulling together and pooling resources but they way things are set up makes it hard to do.

    Sad to see opponents use this to successfully split the recreational camp from the medicinal camp. My honest belief is it’s all medicinal even when recreational and trying to separate the two is not authentic at all. If I medicate to relax and others wish to join me I suppose we can consider it recreational but the reason people become dependent it because it helps millions of US citizens to relax and focus and enjoy their days a little more.

  • jimmy

    Eureka springs is taking signatures

  • The white Shane Diesel

    If nothing else gets me to the polls next year it will be to vote to legalize marijuana. It’s about damn time.

  • sourpatchkid

    I agree, but they c how ppl r wit alcohol n how irresponsible ppl r with that, which makes it hard for them to believe that it can b done responsibly. N its unfair to the ppl that would b responsible bout it. They believe they will have the same problem that they pretty much do wit alcohol, which their prolly rite bout but they should jus take the same actions that they do wit alcohol n call it a day….ppl would b much happier if they could jus get what they want. Things have changed wit crime rate n places where it is legal which is a plus within itself n worth doin….but I c sum of the point as to y they don’t wanna do it but I still stand by the fact that they should jus get it over wit n let it happen jus like they did wit alcohol n not try to do the Lil loop hole bullshit….it is what it is, let it happen. Ppl have always done it n their always going too. The drug war over weed has cost billions of dollars which could have went to other things that causes more damage n havoc than majiwana. Like I said 100% on board wit full legalization, i feel that ulitmantly it has more pros than con’s n has been that way for awhile.

  • colin42

    Let’s go, Michigan! I know we can get an initiative on the ballot for 2016. We legalized medical cannabis statewide in 2008, and with a whopping 63 percent. Several cities have also legalized, and there’s just a general attitude of acceptance with so many of our citizens. Round all of that out with our sizable population of almost ten million, and it should be clear that Michigan is a great goal to shoot for in 2016.