What Are the Next States to Legalize Marijuana?
From Rob Kampia
Executive director, Marijuana Policy Project
After the marijuana-policy-reform movement’s huge victories in Colorado and Washington on November 6, many people are asking, “What states will be next to enact measures to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol?” (We refer to these as “T&R” bills or initiatives.)
It is important to note that this pair of 55 percent victories would have been less resounding had they appeared on the ballot during a midterm election. Presidential elections traditionally attract far more voters, many of whom are younger and more supportive of T&R than older voters. And when there are more voters, there tends to be more support shown for ending marijuana prohibition.
With that in mind, here is what the Marijuana Policy Project will be pursuing from 2013 to 2016.
1. Alaska: Unfortunately, Alaska law currently only allows voter initiatives to be placed on the primary election ballot, so we will attempt to pass a T&R initiative in August 2014. Fortunately, Alaska voters have traditionally been more supportive of T&R than voters in any other state. Only 100,000 Alaskans are expected to vote in August 2014, so the universe of voters we need to persuade is quite small.
2. Rhode Island: MPP separately legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession in Rhode Island in 2009 and 2012, respectively. We’re now lobbying the state legislature to pass a T&R bill, which could very well happen in 2014 or 2015. Regardless of which year this happens, Rhode Island will almost certainly be the first state to pass a T&R measure through the state legislature.
3. Maine: I just returned to D.C. from Maine, where I met with leading activists, political consultants, and state Rep. Diane Russell (D), who’s the lead sponsor of the T&R bill in Augusta. If we fail to pass her bill during the 2013, 2014, or 2015 legislative sessions, we’ll place a T&R initiative on the November 2016 ballot. As a way of demonstrating public support before 2016, we intend to pass local ballot initiatives in Portland and two or three other cities in November 2014.
4. Oregon: Oregon is similar to Maine, in that we’re working with leading activists to pass a T&R bill through the state legislature during the 2013 or 2015 legislative sessions. If the measure falls short, we will place a T&R initiative on the November 2016 ballot. MPP already hired a consultant in Portland to coordinate this four-year plan.
5. California: There is already a consensus that our movement should work over the next four years toward the goal of passing a T&R initiative in California in November 2016. The ACLU is coordinating the public-education effort over the next three years, and then MPP and the Drug Policy Alliance will probably end up leading the ballot-initiative campaign.
6. Massachusetts: The voters of Massachusetts passed MPP’s decriminalization initiative in November 2008 with 65 percent of the vote, and then they followed up by legalizing medical marijuana on November 6 with 63 percent of the vote. Many Massachusetts citizens and legislators assume that marijuana will eventually be legalized in Massachusetts; it’s just a question of when. The answer is “November 2016.”
7. Nevada: MPP failed to pass a pair of ballot initiatives in Nevada in November 2002 and November 2006 with 39 percent and 44 percent of the vote, respectively. Support nationwide has been increasing by about 1.5 percent per year, so we could probably pass a T&R initiative tomorrow if we were permitted to place it on the ballot today. Because that’s not possible, we’re planning to pass an initiative in November 2016.
The themes here are pretty clear.
First, the next states to end marijuana prohibition will be in New England and the West. Second, everything is trending in our direction, and most people now agree that marijuana will eventually be legalized nationwide.
Third, the biggest day in the history of the marijuana-policy-reform movement will be November 8, 2016. After that day, just 46 months from now, it will be almost inevitable that Congress will change federal law to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference. When that happens, we win.